The New York State Health Department over the past two weeks has slowly been revealing the full and devastating impact COVID-19 had on the New York’s nursing homes, but the picture being painted is grim.
Following Attorney General Letitia James’s report that found the Health Department was undercounting nursing home deaths by around 50 percent, lawmakers made the first step to legislatively address some of these issues raised.
Ten bills advanced through the Senate Health Committee on Tuesday that would reform how nursing home deaths are counted, how facilities operate during the pandemic, and allow for compassionate caregiving visitors.
Chair of the Senate Health Committee, Senator Gustavo Rivera, said that this is just the beginning and expects more legislation to follow in the coming months.
“There were mistakes that were made. There were issues that popped up in nursing homes all across the state,” Senator Rivera explained. “And we need to change policy to make sure that we can avert unnecessary deaths and we can keep New Yorkers healthy and safe in nursing homes.”
For months, advocates have been pushing lawmakers to pass the bill that would allow for compassionate care visits in nursing homes, saying isolation is having a huge impact on the well-being of residents.
This bill still needs to pass both the Senate and Assembly before it would be signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Another bill that advanced through committee would require the state to record the deaths of nursing home residents in hospitals as nursing home deaths, the main focus of the attorney general’s report.
“The reason why we need accurate data is because we can’t make good policy without accurate data,” Senator Rivera said. “If there are mistakes we need to acknowledge them so that we can actually move forward and actually make better choices the second time around. And apparently this administration can’t understand that.”
Over the weekend, the state quietly released even more data on COVID-19-related nursing home resident deaths.
As a result, the new number of nursing home and long-term-care facility deaths now totals 14,933, a long way from the 9,154 deaths the state had on its website just a few weeks ago. This is because the state was not including the number of resident deaths who passed away in hospitals and presumed COVID deaths.
Senate and Assembly Republicans insist this is still not the full picture and are calling on Democrats in both houses to hold oversight hearings and issue subpoenas for more information.
“We want to make sure that this issue doesn’t happen again,” Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay said during a press conference. “We can’t continue to be stonewalled. It’s very tough to come up with legislation or put protections in place if we don’t know exactly what happened.”
U.S. Rep. Tom Reed said on the federal level, they have written a letter to the Department of Justice asking officials to investigate the state’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic.
When asked, the White House press secretary has said the Biden Administration will leave the decision of an investigation up to the Justice Department.
“These 15,000 deaths of our New York State residents, these mothers, these fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, deserve justice,” Reed said.
Due to a lawsuit filed by the Empire Center, a state Supreme Court Judge has ruled that the health department must release a full breakdown by facility and by day, each COVID related nursing home resident death by Wednesday, February 10.