News & Politics

Cuomo Defends Barbaric Nursing Home Policy: 'Older People, Vulnerable People Are Going to Die'

AP Photo/John Minchillo

On Sunday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) defended his administration’s barbaric policy of forcing nursing homes — where the population most vulnerable to the coronavirus resides — to take in patients who had tested positive for coronavirus and had been discharged from local hospitals. While there were at least three hospital centers available to take overflow — the Javitz Center hospital, the U.S. Navy Ship Comfort, and Samaritan’s Purse’s field hospital — Cuomo’s administration required nursing homes to admit coronavirus patients.

The governor finally reversed the policy last week, but on Sunday he insisted it hadn’t been that bad.

Speaking of New York health chief Howard Zucker, Cuomo insisted, “He worked it out so we always had available beds. Nobody was deprived of a bed or medical coverage in any way.”

“And still, people died. Still, people died. Older people, vulnerable people, are going to die from this virus. That is going to happen despite whatever you do. Because with all our progress as a society, we can’t keep everyone alive,” Cuomo added.

It is true that all health efforts must ultimately fail, but that is no excuse for a policy that exposed the most vulnerable to a deadly pathogen. Of course, the government and health agencies cannot save everyone — but that doesn’t mean you intentionally increase their risk of death.

In fact, Americans are growing increasingly sick of the coronavirus lockdowns in part because studies have shown the anxiety from the coronavirus — including the lockdowns — may destroy at least seven times as many years of life than the lockdowns can possibly hope to save. The depression from lost jobs, confusion about the future, and the pining for a return to normal life does not pose the same concrete risk as the pandemic — but it does represent a long-term threat to the nation’s mental health that can end up destroying more life than the lockdowns save.

The Centers for Disease Control explains that analysts should consider “not only the number of deaths by cause but also by age.” The CDC explains that the “years of potential life lost” is a useful figure — not because the lives of young people are more important than the lives of the elderly, but because humans can only delay death, not prevent it, and because there is a difference between a disease that kills a 20-year-old in the prime of her life and one that kills a 90-year-old who would have otherwise died a month later.

While not all lives can be saved, this does not justify a barbaric policy that effectively consigned the elderly to disease and death. Health departments should save as many lives as possible, not write off the elderly as expendable.

Nursing home residents represent more than 40 percent of those who have died of COVID-19. Coronavirus DNA studies have suggested that more than 60 percent of U.S. cases trace back to the New York City area. Much of that spread can be attributed to Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-N.Y.C.), who delayed issuing lockdown orders in one of the few places in America most in need of such an order.

Among Cuomo’s many missteps, the nursing home policy was arguably the worst. For nearly two months, the governor’s administration forced nursing homes to take in COVID-positive patients, writing off the elderly as expendable. His defense of such a policy by insisting that “older people, vulnerable people are going to die” is despicable.

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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