EDITORIAL: Investigate state nursing home COVID-19 response

Nursing home deaths warrant independent review

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

Accountability and trust.

Without both, government can’t effectively serve its citizens.

That’s where the Cuomo administration finds itself now, as it attempts to deal with the fallout from its decisions regarding nursing homes and the rising number of coronavirus deaths at long-term care facilities in the state.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has generally gotten high marks for his overall handling of the covid crisis. But the administration’s decisions relating to nursing homes have come increasingly under sharp criticism. 

Those criticisms focus on the state’s decision, since withdrawn, to direct nursing homes to admit patients from hospitals who had previously tested positive for the virus, and then prohibiting those facilities from requiring incoming patients be tested for covid prior to admission.

Some are also upset about the amount of personal protective equipment (PPEs) the state provided to nursing homes and the governor’s statement that providing PPEs was the responsibility of private nursing homes.

Still more criticism has come about the limited amount of information the state was releasing about situations inside nursing homes.

Over the weekend, the number of nursing home deaths in New York stood at over 5,500, about one-fourth the total number of coronavirus deaths in the state and the highest number of nursing home deaths in the country.

Numbers like that can’t be ignored.

Last month, Cuomo announced that the state Department of Health and the state attorney general were partnering in an investigation of nursing home practices to determine whether they’re following rules and executive orders regarding the pandemic.

But given the Health Department’s oversight role in nursing homes, its role in the overall state covid response and the attorney general’s close-working relationship with the governor’s office, it’s difficult to see how such an investigation could be conducted objectively.

Not only could one question its fairness, but also whether it will even examine the administration’s handling of the nursing home situation and the issues raised by critics.

The public needs to trust that any investigation will be thorough and objective, and having one run by the Health Department and AG’s office just doesn’t exude trust.

The state Legislature, which has relegated itself to the sidelines during the crisis, needs to conduct its own public, bipartisan investigation of the administration’s actions and of current state policies regarding nursing homes.

Federal lawmakers should also consider their own independent investigation.

These investigations may find fault with the Cuomo administration’s actions and recommend punitive action, or more likely changes to regulations and policies in order to protect vulnerable seniors from harm.

Or they could find that the administration was justified in its actions, given its fear that the state wouldn’t have enough hospital beds and medical equipment at the height of the crisis to treat all the covid patients.

Either way, the public needs to know the truth.

And it can’t do that without an independent, public investigation.


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