Virus Outbreak Nursing Homes

A patient is loaded into an ambulance by emergency medical workers April 17, 2020, outside Cobble Hill Health Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The nursing home has seen multiple deaths from the coronavirus outbreak.

(The Center Square) – The Cuomo administration is facing increasing calls for an investigation into the deaths of New York nursing home residents during the coronavirus crisis.

As of Tuesday morning, the tally of confirmed and presumed deaths linked to nursing homes and other adult care facilities in New York stood at 5,767. That’s about a quarter of the more than 22,000 overall deaths recorded in the state so far – but it also might be missing nursing home residents who died in the hospital.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has consistently rejected the idea that the state should have done more to protect nursing home residents, saying repeatedly that his administration’s directive that they readmit infected residents had an out clause – if a facility felt it couldn’t adequately care for the infected resident while also keeping other residents safe, it could reach out to the state for help in sending the resident elsewhere.

Then, in the past week, the governor sought to head off accusations that his administration wasn’t doing enough for nursing home patients by requiring that all staff take coronavirus tests twice a week.

To U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., the state’s policymaking has been inadequate. Speaking Tuesday morning on the “Fox & Friends” TV program, she again called for an investigation of the state’s response.

“The governor took executive action forcing positive COVID cases back into nursing homes,” she said. “There was zero transparency in terms of informing the seniors, the workers or the family members, whether there were positive cases.”

She argued that any such investigation could not be conducted by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

“It's not just Republicans who are calling for this independent investigation,” she said. “It's Democrats as well. … It needs to be an independent investigation. I'm calling for the Department of [Health and Human Services] to conduct this independent investigation. I think it needs to come from the federal government.”

Stefanik’s comments paralleled those of state Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-N.Y. City, who published an opinion piece this week making similar points.

“[W]e don’t count on people to investigate themselves, including the Department of Health,” Gottfried wrote. “The state attorney general is usually the Department of Health’s lawyer. James does great work, but it simply isn’t fair to ask her to investigate her own client. The sensible solution is for the attorney general to appoint an outside counsel to run the review.”

Gottfried argued that the current crisis was exposing a long track record of poor care by the state’s nursing homes, saying that a deeper investigation was needed to get to the bottom of systemic issues.

“We must have a broader, more intensive professional review of the longstanding problems: bad operators, short staffing, inadequate funding and poorly staffed and lax enforcement of resident-protection rules,” he wrote. “That review must recognize that a lot of the responsibility for these problems – going back decades – lies with the state itself, especially the Department of Health. The role of the state and the Department of Health can’t and mustn’t be overlooked by investigators.”

Regional Editor

Dave Lemery is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience. He was the editor of Suburban Life Media when its flagship newspaper was named best weekly in Illinois, and he has worked at papers in South Carolina, Indiana, Idaho and New York.