The coronavirus outbreak has been brutal to people living in nursing homes.
Here in New York, more than 6,000 of the state’s 100,000 nursing home patients died because of the virus, and nationally, about one-third of the victims of covid lived in nursing homes.
These vulnerable individuals, our elderly parents and spouses and siblings, need special protection for the next public health emergency.
New York has taken a big step forward in providing those protections with the passage of a bill, later signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, that sets up special protections for nursing home patients.
Among its provisions, the bill (A10394A/S8289B) sets up safeguards to address and prepare for emergencies.
Among the provisions is a requirement that nursing homes submit an annual pandemic emergency plan to the state commissioner of health within 90 days, to post that plan on its website and to make it available to members of the public upon request.
The plan must include a communication plan to notify families and guardians of the medical conditions of infected loved ones at least once a day, more frequently if their conditions change, and to update the families and guardians of other patients at least once a week.
That includes providing a method for allowing families to videoconference with family members daily at no cost.
This section of the law addresses concerns that family members were being kept in the dark about their loved ones’ conditions and the number of cases in each facility, and therefore precluded families from having the information they needed to take action or seek remedies to protect their family members.
The readiness plan must also requires protection plans against infection for staff, residents and families; a plan for hospitalized residents to be readmitted to the facility after treatment; a plan to maintain at least a two-month supply of personal protective equipment (PPEs) and a plan to ensure that the resident retains a place at the nursing home should they become hospitalized and have to leave the facility temporarily for treatment.
Again, these provisions address problems that cropped up during the covid crisis about staff becoming infected, facilities not having enough masks and gowns to protect workers and residents, and issues with people losing their places when they left the nursing facilities.
If the Health Department identifies any violations, the nursing home has 30 days to come up with a plan for correction.
AARP New York, which advocates on behalf of elderly citizens, including those in nursing homes, praised the legislation and called it a “good first step in providing vital protection to residents” of nursing homes.
What happened to so many people in nursing homes can’t be allowed to happen again.
This law begins to address the problems that were identified and provides a framework for further protections.