Nursing Home Hearings Leave Unanswered Questions

Committees of the New York State Legislature have held two hearings in the month of August in regard to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on nursing homes and hospitals.

While the hearings were a step in the right direction, they left many questions unanswered. One key question that remains unanswered is: How many New York nursing home residents have died of COVID-19? Sadly, the official count is approximately 6,400. However, that figure is almost certainly an undercount, as it does not include the number of nursing home patients who contracted COVID-19, were sent to hospitals, and passed away while hospitalized. New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker testified at the first hearing, but claimed that he was not prepared to provide the exact number of nursing home resident deaths; the Commissioner promised to produce that information at a later time. He failed to appear at the second scheduled hearing. This response met with dissatisfaction from legislators in both parties. At New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, we are concerned that the Cuomo administration may be withholding this information to avoid taking responsibility for the disastrous impact of its decision to require nursing home to admit COVID-19 patients.

Following the second hearing, Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt (R-North Tonawanda) and Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski) announced that they would hold an August 17 forum to allow for more voices to be heard regarding the nursing home situation. According to Leader Barclay, “‘Holding legislative hearings was important, but there is no reason to limit the conversations to only two events on an issue that impacted so many thousands of lives. After the health commissioner’s evasive testimony, after legislators were denied a chance to ask questions, after witnesses were pulled off of invitation lists, our Conference promised that we were not done listening.’” Leader Ortt added, “‘Despite two prior hearings, there is clearly more work to be done. This is too critical of an issue to simply walk away and close the door. Even without full transparency and cooperation from the Cuomo Administration, grieving families deserve to be heard.’”