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EDITORIAL: Nursing home report requires a second opinion

EDITORIAL: Nursing home report requires a second opinion

Questions raised about report's objectivity, conclusions
EDITORIAL: Nursing home report requires a second opinion
Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wednesday
Photographer: Governor's Office

It’s great that the Cuomo administration and its Health Department issued a report this week detailing the causes of nursing home deaths at the height of the state’s coronavirus outbreak.

And it’s great that the department issued a time line and other data to help citizens better understand when and how the virus spread in those homes.

The Cuomo administration has been taking heat for moving elderly coronavirus patients from hospitals to nursing homes in an attempt to clear hospital beds for new covid patients. That’s led to accusations that the decision helped boost the spread of the virus in nursing homes, resulting in unnecessary deaths.

On Monday, the Health Department issued a 33-page report that placed the bulk of the blame for the nursing home deaths on infected staff and visitors, rather than on hospital discharges.

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No doubt, the Health Department and the governor would like this report to be the final word on the subject.

But if it’s all the same with them, we’d still like a truly independent review.

Asking the governor and the Health Department to evaluate its own questionable decisions is a little like asking employees to write their own performance reviews or asking students to grade their own tests.

Given that the Health Department has an oversight role in nursing homes and that the governor appoints the health commissioner, it’s difficult to see how such an investigation could be conducted objectively.

In a review of the report Tuesday, former Gazette reporter Bill Hammond, now senior fellow for health policy for the Empire Center, found several shortcomings that deserve further scrutiny.

Among them are the report’s reliance on a questionable time frame that aligns the virus incubation period to the peak of nursing home resident deaths and the start of the hospital discharges. That connection allowed the department to virtually eliminate the hospital discharges as a major factor.

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The analysis also raises questions about the accuracy of the state’s patient death count, how widespread the virus was in nursing homes when the hospital patients were discharged, and the unusually high infection rate reported for nursing home employees and visitors.

Given the questionable subjectivity of the report and the legitimate questions about its content and conclusions, an independent investigation by the Legislature, Congress or another independent body is necessary to give the public a true picture of the state’s response.

If the governor’s office and the Health Department stand behind their conclusions, they’d welcome the second opinion.

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