Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed a New York Times analysis that 21% of coronavirus deaths in New York occurred in nursing homes on NBC’s Meet the Press with host Chuck Todd Sunday, but said infected staff was to blame.
“There’s no doubt in nursing homes all across this nation, that’s where we saw most of the deaths. Not most, but almost 50% of the deaths. Senior citizens in congregate settings. And it’s becoming more and more clear that the infection in the nursing homes came from the staff that got infected and brought it in,” he said.
He diverted blame for the deaths from any connection with the directive he issued on March 25 which forced nursing homes to accept known COVID-positive patients while also prohibiting them from testing patients for the virus prior to admission.
This policy remained in place for more than six weeks before Cuomo reversed it in May after mounting criticism from healthcare workers, nursing home industry advocates, and family members of residents.
Cuomo also granted civil immunity to nursing homes, which eliminated the fear of lawsuits on behalf of residents, leaving them vulnerable to negligence and abuse. Families in New York state have also been unable to advocate for their relatives since they were banned from visitation over three months ago.
Cuomo said New York’s elderly were safer in nursing homes than their own homes and argued that the state’s nursing homes handled the pandemic much better than others.
“In this state, we’re testing every week, every nursing home employee, right? So, you can argue that they are safer than a senior citizen at home who is receiving care at home. The safest environment, my mother, stay home, don’t see anyone,” he said. “If you are at home, and you have an aide coming in, that aide is not tested. In a nursing home, that staff is tested once a week, and seniors do have to be careful wherever they are.”
“But in New York, we’re No. 46 in the nation in terms of percentage of deaths at nursing homes compared to the total percentage,” he told Todd. “By the New York Times, we’re No. 46. So, it’s been unfortunate. In every state, we have to do more. We have to figure it out, but if they want to point fingers, not at New York. We’re No. 46. You have 45 other states to point fingers at first.”
Even though New York has recorded 6,250 COVID-19-related nursing-home deaths, the state does not require these facilities to report the number of positive coronavirus cases, making it difficult to determine an accurate death rate among residents.
Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) said Saturday, “I don’t know if we’ve gotten a full and correct accounting of how many people died of COVID-19 in nursing homes and how many nursing residents transferred to hospitals died of COVID.”
The governor’s office said it was following federal guidance, which indicated that nursing homes could accept patients with COVID-19, as long as those facilities could provide adequate care. The guidance from the Centers for Disease Control advised separating sick residents, screening staff and taking other measures to prevent spread, but given the death rate, isolation protocols could not have been strictly enforced.