EDITORIAL: Fully investigate nursing homes

Letitia James celebrating her primary win for attorney general on Thursday.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Letitia James celebrating her primary win for attorney general on Thursday.

There are so many words one could use to describe state Attorney General Letitia James’ report on the state’s covid response in nursing homes.

Horrifying. Anger. Scary. Dangerous. Deadly. Irresponsible. Secretive. Failure.

But there are two words state and federal lawmakers need to utter when it comes to addressing the many problems the report spotlighted: Full investigation.

Enough “demanding” information. Enough filing Freedom of Information Law requests to get numbers. Enough legislative hearings. Enough partisan sniping.

The state’s handling of nursing home patients — both in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and in general practice — has put residents’ lives at risk, deprived families of information and contact with their loved ones, risked the health of nursing home staffs, and inspired financial malfeasance at the expense of the people nursing homes were set up to serve.

No response will be acceptable short of a complete, independent investigation into existing nursing home practices, into the laws and regulatory policies that govern them, into the Cuomo administration’s management of the facilities, and into the state’s failure to release vital public data in a timely manner.

At stake are the lives and well-being of our loved ones. Of our parents and grandparents and husbands and wives.

Also at stake is the damage to families from a failure to provide them with adequate access, assistance and guidance.

The 76-page report (which you can read by clicking here) articulated several problems, including the fact that data released by the state Department of Health far underestimated the number of residents who’ve died from covid.

We pretty much already figured that out already, since the state for months has been withholding details about the results of the administration’s policy of forcing nursing homes to accept former covid patients released from hospitals.

But the report’s other findings — which also can’t be overlooked or downplayed — include lack of compliance with infection-control protocols; nursing homes with low Medicaid and Medicare Services Staffing ratings; insufficient supplies of personal protection equipment for staff; insufficient covid testing for residents and staff early in the pandemic that put residents at increased risk of sickness and death; failure to follow state guidance to ensure families are kept informed about their loved ones’ status; and issues with state reimbursement models that sucked necessary funding away from nursing homes and their patients.

This report reveals more than a state being cagey with numbers. It reveals a pervasive, systemic problem with the way our state and the nursing homes it oversees care for the most vulnerable among us — our sick and elderly.

The Legislature, Congress, the state attorney general and the state judicial system all need to examine the findings in this report, determine who’s responsible, and make mandatory changes.

Failure to act is not only unacceptable; it could be fatal.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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