At least 2,900 New York state nursing home residents have died of COVID-19, including at least 70 in Western New York. Now the state will investigate whether facilities have done everything possible to prevent those deaths.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced during his briefing Thursday that the state Department of Health and Attorney General’s Office will conduct an investigation into how nursing homes have handled the COVID-19 crisis.
“This happens to be a virus that happens to attack elderly people and nursing homes are the place of elderly people. We get it,” he said, “but they still have to perform their job and do their jobs by the rules and regulations.”
Nursing homes will have to immediately report what they’ve done to comply with recent state and federal regulations. Some of those new state regulations have included banning visitors, providing appropriate personal protective equipment, isolating sick residents, screening staff members for fever, and making sure the staff members treating COVID-19 patients are not also treating the non-COVID patients.
If the state determines nursing homes failed to comply, the nursing home will have to submit an action plan. The nursing home could also be fined $10,000 per violation or even lose its operating license.
“It's that simple,” Cuomo said.
However, one of the state’s new regulations may be doing more harm than good. The state issued guidance March 25 that nursing homes must take in discharged hospital patients, regardless of whether they have COVID-19. It was meant to keep hospitals from overflowing, but some advocates have condemned the rule, saying it could be introducing the virus into nursing homes.
Cuomo seemed to defend the regulation Thursday, saying nursing homes are only supposed to take in COVID-19 patients if they can follow the state’s safety regulations.
“You must provide adequate care,” he said. “If you can't, that patient has to be transferred to a facility where they get adequate care.”
Still, the state investigation is in line with what state Assemblyman Sean Ryan wants. On Wednesday, Ryan, D-Buffalo, had called for the state to survey nursing homes about their potential shortages of staff and PPE.
“There's a lot of questions out there that we don't know the answers to,” he said. “We need to step in and take a more aggressive role now so we can get a handle on what's happening in our nursing homes. And then hopefully, this information can be used to push services and equipment into nursing homes that are lacking.”