An independent probe is needed to get to the bottom of what role Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s policies played in the coronavirus deaths of more than 5,300 New York nursing home residents, a chorus of lawmakers said Tuesday.
Leading the call was Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who said that the already-announced inquiry into the deaths by state Attorney General Letitia James is insufficient because the office regularly works with the Department of Health.
“There needs to be independent review of what’s going on with COVID-19 and nursing homes, especially in the context of decades of problems with nursing homes in New York and Health Department protection of nursing home residents,” said Gottfried (D-Manhattan), who has chaired the Assembly’s Health Committee since 1987.
“A review needs to be independent,” continued Gottfried. “Since the state attorney general, by law, regularly is the Department’s lawyer, it would be best if the attorney general brought in an outside counsel.”
Gottfried added that he was interested in looking at the overarching state of nursing homes, and not necessarily individual decisions.
“I’m not focused necessarily on the pros and cons of specific policies,” he said. “It’s the overall problems, which the COVID-19 situation has made worse and highlighted.”
Other lawmakers, however, expressed a need to zero in on a March 25 directive by Cuomo’s DOH that barred nursing homes from turning away admissions or readmissions even if they tested positive for the coronavirus.
In the face of fierce, bipartisan criticism, Cuomo effectively curbed that policy on Sunday by decreeing that hospital patients must test negative for the coronavirus before they can be discharged to nursing homes.
But with 5,352 confirmed or presumed coronavirus deaths tallied in nursing homes statewide as of midnight Tuesday, a partial change of course with the worst of the pandemic past doesn’t cut it, state pols said.
“We should have a federal investigation to find out what happened in the nursing homes,” said Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens), going a step further than Gottfried. “Something terribly horrible happened here.
“That’s probably the deadliest decision ever made in New York State history,” added Kim of the March 25 directive.
Even in adding the hospital provision on Sunday, Cuomo has refused to concede that the March policy was flawed.
It is technically still in effect, with nursing homes prohibited from turning away coronavirus-positive people from avenues other than hospitals.
Cuomo has insisted that the measure was simply taken to prevent discrimination, and maintained that nursing homes always had the right — and, in fact, a duty — to ask the state for help placing applicants they can’t care for elsewhere.
Assemblyman Dan Rosenthal, a Queens Democrat like Kim, also decried the state’s handling of nursing homes amid the public-health crisis.
“These facilities were supposed to be strongholds of health and care, instead they became breeding grounds for the virus amongst our most vulnerable,” said Rosenthal. “There must be a thorough and independent investigation into the causes of this tragedy.
“Doing so not only better prepares us for the future, but also provides families the answers they deserve.”