EDITORIAL: Legislative hearings could shine light on nursing home deaths

Lawmakers to review Cuomo's controversial nursing home decision, examine other problems and solutions related to covid

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has generally gotten high marks for his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

But one area in which he’s been almost universally criticized is his decision early in the crisis to move elderly coronavirus patients from hospitals to nursing homes in an attempt to clear hospital beds for new covid patients.

Through mid-July, the state’s 6,300 nursing home deaths accounted for about 20% of all coronavirus-related deaths in New York.

Cuomo’s answer to the criticism for his decision was the publication last month of a 33-page report — issued by the Health Department that he controls — that effectively absolved the executive branch of blame and placed it largely on infected nursing home staff and visitors.

The report was widely criticized, including by this newspaper, for glossing over some the potential causes of the deaths, omitting data, and for the obvious conflict of interest in having the Health Department and governor’s office review their own conduct.

It’s vitally important, both for the future safety of nursing home patients and for the cause of accountability and transparency, that state lawmakers get an accurate picture of how the nursing home crisis occurred, who is to blame and how future problems can be prevented.

That picture could come into clearer focus during two joint legislative hearings scheduled for this Monday and next (Aug. 3 and 10) starting at 10 a.m. The hearings will livestreamed for the public on the Senate and Assembly websites. (See below for links).

During the hearings, lawmakers will hear testimony from invited witnesses and ask questions about the state’s response and other factors relating to the situation inside the state’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Lawmakers hope to get answers about the distribution of medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE), safety inspections and enforcement, and practices and procedures of residential health care facilities in responding to the pandemic, according to the hearing agenda.

Lawmakers also will seek to identify the steps needed to reduce the rates of infection and mortality, and to improve the experiences of patients, families, caregivers and providers.

The people in nursing homes are our parents and grandparents, our most frail and vulnerable citizens. They must be protected not only from the deadly virus, but from state policies, laws and actions that adversely affect their well-being.

We encourage everyone with an interest in this to tune in to the hearings, listen to the explanations and solutions, and contact your state lawmakers with any issues and concerns you have.

The hearings can be viewed on https://www.nysenate.gov/events and https://www.nyassembly.gov/av/live/.

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