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Cuomo admin report defends nursing home rules for the pandemic

ALBANY — The Cuomo administration concluded in a report issued Monday that while more than 300 nursing homes statewide took in coronavirus-positive patients during the pandemic, the employees of the facilities were the main conduit for the virus into the homes.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo contended critics of the state’s March 25 order directing the nursing homes to accept the patients discharged by hospitals stemmed from “ugly politics” and a “political conspiracy” that the more than 6,400 nursing home deaths in the state were preventable.

The impacts of the controversial policy were analyzed in a report issued by the state Department of Health, headed by Dr. Howard Zucker, a Cuomo appointee.

Significant factors

The report suggested that the coronavirus was introduced to nursing homes by staffers and perhaps visitors as early as mid-February.

“Admission policies to nursing homes were not a significant factor in nursing home fatalities,” Zucker commented, adding, “Data suggests nursing home quality is not a factor in mortality from Covid.”

Echoing the report from one of his agencies, Cuomo said at a stop in Manhattan, “Between the family coming in and the staff, they were the transporters of the virus.”

The report likely will not be the final word on New York’s wave of nursing home deaths at a time when Cuomo has had extraordinary powers to oversee the public health emergency.

Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, said while the study did a “good job in justifying the March 25 order,” it does not address a host of long-standing problems at the nursing homes that may have contributed to the severity of the toll.

Staffing shortages, inadequate funding, and the quality of state enforcement at the homes are all issues that should be examined when the Assembly and the Senate hold a joint hearing on how nursing home patients have been impacted by the pandemic, Gottfried said in an interview.

Republicans in the state Assembly and Senate argued the Health Department report was self-serving.

Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, contended the document amounted to a “pass-the-buck narrative.” If the report’s authors are confident in its findings, he suggested, they should be eager to answer questions at a public hearing.

A more biting reaction came from Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican who represents the North Country in Congress. She tweeted: “Everyone knows this is a joke & not a real report or investigation. There needs to be an independent investigation into NY’s fatal nursing home policy.”

Family visits

A longtime advocate for nursing home residents, Richard Mollot, director of the nonprofit Long Term Care Community Coalition, said he would also welcome an independent investigation into the state’s handling of the crisis at the nursing homes.

Mollot said he was “pleasantly surprised” that the preliminary data suggest the March 25 directive was not a primary factor in residents being sickened.

He also called on state officials to allow family visits to resume. “People are suffering not just from COVID-19 but also abject neglect and loneliness,” he said.

Nursing home visits have been left out of the state’s phased reopening of commerce, and the Cuomo administration has provided no guidance as to when they will resume.

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