Analysis by WorldTribune Staff, May 12, 2020
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s policy of forcing New York’s nursing homes to take in patients infected with the coronavirus added more than 1,700 deaths to the count of those who died in the facilities, The Associated Press reported.
The nursing homes disaster in New York “is on you, Gov. Cuomo,” the New York Post’s Michael Goodwin wrote in a May 5 analysis.
When first asked last month about his nursing homes policy, Cuomo responded: “That’s a good question, I don’t know.”
Asked about the Associated Press report, the governor answered: “I don’t know the details, frankly.”
“Cuomo is legendary for micromanaging and has been praised for his detailed daily briefings during the pandemic,” Goodwin noted. “He has closed schools, religious services and businesses because each human life is ‘priceless.’ ”
With known nursing home deaths representing 25 percent of all deaths in New York, “it beggars belief that the governor didn’t know anything about his office’s fatal policy two weeks ago or the new death totals now,” Goodwin wrote.
“And if you are the governor of the state that is the national epicenter of the deadly outbreak, you don’t have the luxury of not knowing, or pretending not to know, about the horrendous carnage in nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. And if your policies contributed to that carnage, the decent thing to do is to own your mistakes and fix them.”
Cuomo’s March 25 order that forced infected patients on nursing “allows for no exceptions and has not been changed,” Goodwin noted.
The fifth paragraph of the governor’s order reads: “No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the NH solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19. NHs are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.”
Owners and managers told the New York Post they are not aware of any loosening of the policy by Cuomo. “They also say that hospitals still are referring infected patients to them on a near-daily basis and they are expected to take them if they have an empty bed,” Goodwin noted.
“To them, the March 25 order was a death sentence. Some facilities say they had no deaths or even positive patients before that date, but many of both since, including among staff members.”
“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 at a Long Island nursing home. “They knew better. They shouldn’t have sent these people into nursing homes.”
Goodwin cited the experience of Donny Tuchman, CEO of Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill Health Center. On April 24, when his facility already had lost 55 patients, Tuchman showed reporters email exchanges with the Department of Health where he got no help when he asked for relief. “Even his request to have some of the COVID-19 patients sent to the Javits Center or the Navy ship Comfort, both of which were well below capacity, was rejected,” Goodwin wrote.
“As the Post front-page headline said the next day, ‘THEY KNEW’, meaning the state could no longer pretend it had no idea of the chaos it inflicted on nursing homes.”
Cuomo, in response, “has constructed an evolving litany of self-defenses, once coldly asserting it was ‘not our job’ to help the homes get protective equipment for their staffs, even as other officials said the equipment was being provided,” Goodwin wrote. “His office claimed the state policy mirrored federal policy, which, as the AP noted in its report, isn’t true. The feds never mandated that nursing homes be forced to accept COVID-19 patients.”
Cuomo also faced criticism at a recent briefing for saying that providing masks and gowns to nursing homes is “not our job” because the homes are privately owned.
“It was such an insensitive thing to say,” said state Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Queens Democrat who noted that it wasn’t until just this past week that New York announced a plan to combine forces with neighboring states to buy protective gear and medical supplies for nursing homes.
“If we had focused on that early on, we could have saved a lot of lives,” Kim said.
Goodwin noted that “on other days, Cuomo threatened to remove the facilities’ licenses and warned them against committing perjury in their death reports. Flexing his power to punish them, he launched, with the state attorney general, an investigation of the facilities. For the owners and staffs, the threats were a warning to be silent and the investigation is a bid to pin the blame for thousands of deaths on them.”
Two other things Cuomo said “also bear remembering,” Goodwin wrote. “First, he allowed that ‘we did some very harsh things’ to nursing homes that ‘frankly, I wasn’t comfortable with.’ He then cited the order barring visitors for the last two months.”
That order, “was indeed harsh, especially for the families who never saw their loved ones again before the virus killed them,” Goodwin noted. “By the same token, those families want to know why in the world the state would bar them from nursing homes but simultaneously impose infected patients on the same facilities.”