New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has come under fire for what critics have called his “awful handling” of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state’s nursing homes.
According to numbers posted by New York’s Department of Health, New York’s nursing home COVID-19 death toll stood at 5,601 as of Sunday, a significant chunk of the state’s total running death toll from the virus.
“The whole thing has just been handled awfully … by everybody in regard to nursing homes,” said Kathleen Cole, a nurse whose 89-year old mother died after contracting COVID-19 at a nursing home.
“It’s like a slaughterhouse at these places.”
This spike in deaths at the state’s nursing homes, critics said, could be traced back to a mandate that Cuomo put in place back in March that ordered nursing homes to admit recently-released COVID-19 patients without requiring them to undergo further testing.
The policy, similar to those in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California, was intended to help clear in-demand hospital beds for sicker patients.
Cuomo’s mandate, however, prompted sharp criticism from the nursing home industry, staff members and concerned families, as well as some leading public health experts.
“Nursing homes are working so hard to keep the virus out, and now we’re going to be introducing new COVID-positive patients?” David Grabowski, a professor of health policy at Harvard Medical School, said in an interview with NBC.
Cuomo, during his announcement of the said measure, noted that the nursing homes and related facilities cannot object to the new mandate. “They don’t have a right to object. That is the rule and that is the regulation, and they have to comply with that,” Cuomo said.
“The way this has been handled by the state is totally irresponsible, negligent and stupid,” said Elaine Mazzotta, a nurse whose mother died last month of suspected COVID-19 at a Long Island nursing home. She added that the authorities should not have sent the patients back into the nursing homes. (Related: New York begins to reopen as coronavirus cases fall.)
Earlier studies have pointed out that the elderly, as well as others with compromised immune systems, are at greater risk for contracting fatal coronavirus infections.
“To have a mandate that nursing homes accept COVID-19 patients has put many people in grave danger,” Richard Mollot, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition in New York, said in an interview with the Bucks County Courier Times.
“We know facilities have a lot of infection-control problems, we know that facilities have low staff, so what do you think was going to happen when the staff were further strained in caring for these patients?” Mollot added.
In a press conference, Cuomo noted that the state’s hospitals are now barred from releasing elderly patients to nursing homes unless the patient tests negative for the virus.
“We’re just not going to send a person who is positive to a nursing home after a hospital visit. Period,” Cuomo said during the May 10 press conference.
Cuomo also stressed that in the event that a nursing home is deemed “unable to provide proper treatment and support” for a recovering resident, that person must then be transferred to the care of the state, which the governor noted as now having ample hospital bed capacity for such patients.
“Our number one priority is protecting people in nursing homes. It’s where it (COVID-19) feeds,” Cuomo stated.
In addition, Cuomo also announced a step-up in testing for those who work in the state’s nursing homes, noting that staff at nursing homes will now be required to take two diagnostic tests each week to check for the coronavirus.
Cuomo’s recent pronouncements have been warmly welcomed by industry groups who fiercely opposed the earlier mandate.
“In order to further protect our residents and staff, we are grateful that hospitals can no longer discharge new patients into nursing homes that have tested positive or were suspected to have COVID-19,” stated Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association and the New York State Center for Assisted Living, which represents long-term care facilities. Hanse noted that Cuomo’s announcement “acknowledges” the concerns voiced out by the state’s nursing homes.
As of reporting time, New York state has logged a total of 352,845 coronavirus infections, as well as 22,182 deaths, according to state health department data.