News & Politics

NY Nursing Homes Can FINALLY Turn Away COVID-Positive Patients, Must Report Staff Cases

In this March 24, 2020 photo, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference against a backdrop of medical supplies at the Jacob Javits Center that will house a temporary hospital in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in New York. Amid an unprecedented public health crisis, the nation’s governors are trying to get what they need from the federal government – and fast. But often that means navigating the disorienting politics of dealing with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

On Sunday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) finally signed an executive order effectively reversing an order from New York health chief Howard Zucker’s order mandating that nursing homes accept people regardless of their coronavirus testing status — indeed, that they couldn’t even require a test before admission. Cuomo signed the order with little fanfare, but the order carries tremendous significance because more than 40 percent of coronavirus deaths nationwide have occurred in nursing homes, where less than one percent of the U.S. population lives, and the New York City area is America’s coronavirus epicenter.

The new order requires nursing homes to test all personnel, including employees, medical staff, operators, and administrators, for the coronavirus twice every week. Any positive test must be reported to the Department of Health by 5 p.m. the following day. The order applies harsh penalties for non-compliance, empowering the Commissioner of Health to strip a nursing home’s operating certificate, and levying hefty fines.

The new order also requires hospitals to perform a COVID-19 test on any patient before discharging him or her to a nursing home and to check with the nursing home that it is equipped to care for such a patient.

It is quite noteworthy that these commonsense requirements came so late in New York State’s handling of the crisis. As The New York Post reported, this order effectively reversed Zucker’s March 25 mandate requiring nursing homes to admit patients regardless of their coronavirus status. In other words, it follows nearly two months during which coronavirus cases at nursing homes spiked thanks to the state’s previous policy.

During that time, doctors and officials knew that the elderly were at increased risk for complications and death from COVID-19, and yet they refused to let nursing homes turn away people who had tested positive for the virus.

In one particularly horrific case, state officials signed off on allowing nurses who had tested positive for the virus to continue working at Hornell Gardens nursing home in upstate New York. Tests administered on April 8 and 9 revealed that 46 of the 140 people who live or work at the home tested positive for COVID-19. At least 15 people from that nursing home have died.

Tragically, it seems this new executive order would not have prevented COVID-positive Hornell Gardens staff from returning to work since state health officials made that call.

Even so, the order is a belated step in the right direction when it comes to requiring hospitals to test patients before sending them to nursing homes.

It is unspeakably damning that this order ever needed to be issued at such a late date. Until this point, Cuomo stood by as his administration mandated that nursing homes — where the population most vulnerable to the virus reside — could not turn away patients who had tested positive for the virus. This policy endangered the lives of the most vulnerable in the name of fighting the virus. That’s utterly despicable.

Gov. Cuomo has a great deal to answer for.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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