The Erie County Legislature has joined the call for an independent investigation into how New York state has handled the COVID-19 crisis in nursing homes.
Legislators unanimously passed a resolution calling for the inquiry during Thursday’s virtual session. In addition to an independent inquiry, the resolution also demands that the state Department of Health and Attorney General’s Office to recuse themselves from the investigation.
“I think it’s high time that we get some answers and we get some answers through an independent investigation outside of New York state because there’s been many problems, challenges and tragic deaths that have occurred,” said county Legislator Edward Rath III, R-Amherst, during the session.
The resolution comes after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last month that the state Department of Health and Attorney General’s Office would investigate whether nursing homes have followed both state and federal COVID-19 regulations.
Lawmakers across the state, including both Republicans and the Democratic chairman of the state Assembly’s health committee, have criticized that investigation, saying it’s a conflict of interest. That’s because many feel that the Department of Health has had a hand in the spread of the virus in nursing homes.
The Department of Health issued a widely criticized mandate March 25 that nursing homes must accept recovering COVID-19 patients from hospitals. The Associated Press reports more than 4,300 COVID-19 patients were sent to state nursing homes as a result.
Cuomo and the state finally reversed that decision May 11, saying hospitals can no longer discharge COVID-19 patients to nursing homes.
“It is difficult to see how the Health Department can reasonably be expected to evaluate their own policies and decisions that could have directly resulted in the deaths of thousands of more residents than would have happened had they simply not made any of the questionable directives,” Erie County legislators’ resolution read.
More than 5,800 New York nursing home residents have died of COVID-19, including more than 260 in Western New York, according to the latest state data.
“They have had some major challenges, such as low staffing levels, lack of testing of employees, lack of (personal protective equipment) and in many ways a failure to properly protect the residents of nursing homes from New York state,” Rath said.