Andrew Cuomo Scrambles to Change Nursing Home Virus Policies as Democrats Call for Independent Investigation
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo finds himself engulfed in scandal as a growing number of Democrats join state Republicans in demanding an independent investigation into his controversial policies and how questionable actions may might have contributed to the catastrophic outbreak of coronavirus in New York nursing homes.
More details have emerged in recent days raising major questions about potentially fatal decisions made under Cuomo’s watch as the death toll in New York’s nursing homes swells to over 5300 and continues to climb.
The center of the storm surrounds a controversial March 25 directive prohibiting nursing homes from testing recovering hospital patients prior to intake. This while Cuomo’s aides reportedly quietly worked to shield nursing homes from lawsuits due to coronavirus following lobbying by industry representatives.
The March 25 executive order in question stated, “[nursing homes] are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.”
Last week, New York suddenly disclosed more than 1,700 previously unreported deaths at nursing homes and adult care facilities. An Associate Press tally put the number of nursing home virus deaths at over 5300. Elderly care fatalities in New York have reportedly been on the rise by an average of 20 to 25 deaths per day for several weeks.
Cuomo is under more scrutiny after the New York Times revealed that his aides “quietly inserted a provision on Page 347 of New York’s final, voluminous budget bill” that provided what the newspaper characterized as “unusual legal protections” for nursing home operators.
The measure, which followed intensive lobbying efforts by nursing home representatives, protected elderly care facilities from lawsuits in the event that they are accused of failing to protect residents from coronavirus. The legislation was included inside a budget that was approved by the State Legislature on April 2.
In other words, after an executive order seemingly ensuring that nursing homes can continue to be filled with clients by barring testing for incoming residents, Cuomo’s aides reportedly quietly shielded those same homes from many lawsuits arising from coronavirus outbreaks.
Amid the ensuing outcry, Cuomo established an inquiry under the auspices of his own health department as well as the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat. That led to Republicans calling for an independent probe.
Now some Democrats are joining the Republican chorus demanding an independent investigation.
New York Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Democrat, savaged Cuomo on Twitter:
The governor’s flip-flopping policies on nursing homes must be held accountable. First, they tried to keep the virus out by denying access. Then they tell unprepared facilities to take in #COVID19 patients. Now they are back to keeping the virus out again— Ron T. Kim (@rontkim) May 12, 2020
The profit-driven nursing home model was already broken way before this pandemic and everyone knew this, including @NYStateofHealth— Ron T. Kim (@rontkim) May 12, 2020
So why would you send #COVID19 patients back to these under-equipped facilities? This was arguably the deadliest decision in American history.
“It’s fine to have the Health Department and the attorney general looking at what individual nursing homes are doing. But there needs to be a professional review of not only the industry as a whole but what the Department of Health has been doing, both leading up to this situation and in the midst of this situation,” said New York Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Democrat. “Certainly, it would be wrong for the Department of Health to be charged with examining itself.”
“The attorney general should bring in outside counsel,” said Gottfried.
State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Democrat from the Bronx, said the State Legislature should investigate.
“I strongly believe that the Legislature is one of the key entities that should look into this issue, which has devastated so many families across our state,” said Rivera, chairman of the Senate Health Committee. “It is imperative to hold public hearings as soon as possible to get to the bottom of what truly happened at our state’s nursing homes as the COVID-19 pandemic developed.”
The massive number of dead prompted Cuomo earlier this week to issue a series of new regulations, including requiring staff at all nursing homes to take two virus tests per week. He also said that hospitals can no longer send coronavirus patients to nursing homes.
“We’re just not going to send a person who is positive to a nursing home after hospital visit. Period. If there’s any issue, the resident must be referred to the department of health which will find alternative care,” Cuomo further explained on Sunday.
An aide to Cuomo claimed the announcement was not a reversal, insisting instead it was a new policy based on the increased availability of testing and more hospital space.