NY state Senate pushes COVID-19 nursing home accountability legislation
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The Democratic-run state Senate is preparing to pass a package of 10 bills to bolster accountability and oversight of nursing homes — and the health department — after an investigative report revealed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration misled the public about the total number of nursing home residents killed by the coronavirus.
One bill would require the reporting of all COVID-19 fatalities of nursing home residents, whether they died in a nursing facility or a hospital.
State Attorney General Letitia James issued a damning report last week that concluded Cuomo’s health department undercounted COVID-19 nursing home deaths by 50 percent, by only reporting those residents killed by the virus in nursing facilities, not those who later perished in hospitals.
Hours after the report was issued, embattled Health Commissioner Howard Zucker disclosed that roughly 5,000 more nursing home residents were killed by COVID-19.
Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx) accused team Cuomo of stonewalling for months the release of the true count of nursing home residents killed by COVID-19. He raised the issue with Zucker at a legislative hearing on COVID-19 in August.
“The numbers from the state magically appeared after the attorney general’s report. We want to have the force of law require the disclosure of this data in the future,” Rivera, the senate health committee chairman who is sponsoring the death tally bill, said.
A state judge this week also ruled Cuomo’s health department broke the law by refusing to provide a government watchdog group with the total nursing home death toll from COVID-19.
The accountability and oversight package includes 10 bills.
A second proposal would tighten rules for the transfer or discharge of nursing home residents after reports surfaced they were being dumped into homeless shelters.
Another measure would require the public posting of grades of nursing homes on the state DOH and nursing home websites.
A fourth bill would tighten rules for nursing home ownership.
Other measures call for more rigorous infection control inspections and monitoring of long-term care facilities, including giving the nursing home ombudsman more authority to report problems at facilities.
Meanwhile legislation would also allow relatives of nursing home residents to make in-person visits to provide “compassionate care” and “personal care” to loved ones. Visitations are barred or restricted at most nursing homes to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Rivera said another bill he’s sponsoring that would require nursing homes to maintain minimum staffing ratios will be taken up at a later date.
“What happened in nursing homes is concerning to us. We’re talking about our most vulnerable population. It was clear we needed to do more to address these problems. There are bad actors out there,” the senator said.
“God forbid we find ourselves in a similar situation in the future.”
Cuomo and Zucker are facing a backlash from fellow Democrats in both the Assembly and Senate over their nursing home policies during the pandemic. Earlier this week, Assembly Democrats accused Zucker of lying and being a Cuomo puppet during a private zoom meeting.
A spokesman for Cuomo said the governor would review the bills.
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