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Senate Advances 10 Bills to Address Nursing Home Pandemic Issues
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Senate Health Chair Gustavo Rivera, D-Bronx
Credit: New York State Senate

COVID-19 in New York's Nursing Homes

The State Senate advanced several bills Tuesday that would address problems in the state’s nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of those issues were recently outlined in a report from the state attorney general’s office, which also found that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration significantly undercounted nursing home deaths.

The package of 10 bills approved by the Senate Health Committee Tuesday would, among other things, require the state Department of Health to report deaths of all residents of nursing homes and other adult care facilities, even if they died in the hospital. 

State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker withheld the data on the hospital deaths during the past 11 months of the pandemic, until a few hours after Attorney General Tish James issued a report two weeks ago that found nursing home deaths had been underreported by 50%.  

Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Health Committee, said he was “saddened, but not surprised” by the new data, which showed that nearly 15,000 elderly adults in long-term care settings died of COVID-19.  

“What these numbers show us is that there were a lot of things wrong here,” Rivera said. “And if there’s things need to be codified in law, mandated in law that actually secure people’s safety and well being, that’s what we want to do.”  

Other bills would require state health officials to conduct more thorough inspections for infection preparedness. 

The attorney general’s report found many nursing homes were woefully unprepared for the pandemic, and struggled to supply personal protective equipment to staff. They ignored infection control policies, and some housed residents with COVID-19 alongside those who were not sick, leading to further spread of the virus, the report said.

Additionally, nursing home ratings would have to be published, so people could make better decisions when choosing a facility. The AG’s report found that homes with lower ratings had higher death rates.

Another measure would permit family members limited visitation rights during a pandemic. 

Rivera said families testified in hearings held by the state Legislature that the nearly year-long ban from the homes led to deteriorating physical and mental health for their relatives. He said family members were part of the “care team” for the individuals in nursing homes.

“When they were not allowed to have any access to their family members, they got worse very quickly,” Rivera said.  

Cuomo has had little to say about the attorney general’s report. He has expressed confidence in the State Health Department’s oversight of the nursing homes during the pandemic, and said he doesn’t believe it’s essential to know where the residents died.

“Look, whether a person died in a hospital or died in nursing home, people died,” Cuomo said in January.

If the bills ultimately pass the Senate and the Assembly, and Cuomo disagrees with the legislation, Democrats have supermajorities in both houses of the state Legislature and could override the governor’s objections.

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