Andrew Cuomo Under Fire for Directive Requiring Nursing Homes to Accept Coronavirus Patients

Andrew Cuomo (Matthew Cavanaugh / Getty)
Matthew Cavanaugh / Getty

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is facing rising criticism over a controversial directive in March requiring the state’s nursing homes to accept coronavirus patients from hospitals, when few had the equipment or training to deal with those patients.

The directive, dated March 25, stated (original emphasis): “No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the NH [nursing home] 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.”

The New York Times reported Friday that “California, New Jersey and New York have made nursing homes accept Covid-19 patients from hospitals.” The Times added: “Although there is no evidence so far that the practice has allowed infections to spread in nursing homes, many residents and advocates fear that it is only a matter of time.”

And many say it has already taken its toll:

At the epicenter of the outbreak, New York issued a strict new rule last month: Nursing homes must readmit residents sent to hospitals with the coronavirus and accept new patients as long as they are deemed “medically stable.” California and New Jersey have also said that nursing homes should take in such patients. Homes are allowed to turn patients away if they claim they can’t care for them safely — but administrators say they worry that refusing patients could provoke regulatory scrutiny, and advocates say it could result in a loss of revenue.

In contrast to these states, Connecticut and Massachusetts designated certain facilities for Covid-19 patients alone — considered the safest way to free up hospital beds. The Washington Health Care Association, which represents long-term care facilities in Washington State, has asked officials to adopt a similar policy; so far, they have not.

“It’s got to happen,” said Robin Dale, the association’s president. “Then we would not have this hodgepodge of every nursing home in the state having one or two positives and crossing your fingers that it works out.”

One physical therapist who works in a nursing home told the Times: “Whoever made this decision, whoever did this, I consider this a sentence of death for all the older patients, whoever is in a nursing home.”

Conservative radio host and litigator Mark Levin noted Friday that he had been warned by a caller on March 26 that Gov. Cuomo had issued the directive requiring nursing homes to admit coronavirus patients. He was astonished at her story, and grew outraged as he learned that the caller — a medical director at a New York nursing home — had been 100% accurate.

On Monday, according to Michael Goodwin of the New York Post, Cuomo was asked about his policy for the first time. He did not know about the policy and deferred to state health officials.

Goodwin pointed out: “[I]t was well known that the elderly were easy targets for the coronavirus before New York adopted its Health Department directive on March 25 requiring nursing homes to accept those with the disease.”

Goodwin added Saturday that the policy continued even though President Donald Trump had made additional hospital facilities available at the Jacob Javits Center (through the Army Corps of Engineers) and the USNS Comfort:

The clear aim was to relieve pressure on hospitals bursting with coronavirus patients. But in addition to wanting to know why there was no warning, nursing home officials want to know why the Javits Center or the Navy hospital ship Comfort were not used, where infected patients could be isolated.

In fact, The Post reported Saturday that Donny Tuchman, the CEO of Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill Health Center, told state officials on April 9 he couldn’t handle the flood of infected patients and specifically asked about using the Javits and Comfort instead.

He was turned down, even though both facilities were caring for only a fraction of their capacities. So far, Tuchman’s facility has lost 55 residents to the coronavirus, the most of any nursing home in New York. And now the Comfort is getting ready to leave New York because it’s not needed.

On Thursday, Gov. Cuomo announced an investigation — into the nursing homes, apparently shifting blame. A statement on the governor’s website said:

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the State Department of Health is partnering with Attorney General Letitia James to investigate nursing homes who violate Executive Orders requiring these facilities to communicate COVID-19 test results and deaths to residents’ families.

The Governor also announced a new directive requiring nursing homes to immediately report to DOH the actions they have taken to comply with all DOH and CDC laws, regulations, directives and guidance. DOH will inspect facilities that have not complied with these directives, including separation and isolation policies, staffing policies and inadequate personal protective equipment, and if DOH determines that the facilities failed to comply with the directives and guidance, DOH will immediately require the facility to submit an action plan. Facilities could be fined $10,000 per violation or potentially lose their operating license.

Thus, nursing homes will be held accountable for their failure to obey the directive — but the directive itself remains in place.

Older people are more vulnerable to COVID-19. However, given that many of the oldest victims already had limited mobility, there are questions about how they would have been exposed to the coronavirus in the first place.

The Wall Street Journal noted Apr. 22 that over 10,000 people had died nationwide in nursing homes from coronavirus — over one-fifth of the nation’s total. The proportion is about 25% in New York, according to the Post.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported Thursday that up to half of coronavirus-related deaths in Europe had occurred in nursing homes or long-term care facilities for the elderly.

Some Democrats have floated the idea of running Gov. Cuomo for president in the event that former Vice President Joe Biden is replace on the ticket, though Cuomo has said that he is not interested in running for president or vice president.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, is available for pre-order. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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