As the debate rages on as to whether we should open or shut our economy while COVID-19 cases ebb in some states and rise in others, it’s imperative that we not be swayed by political spin.
That’s why we should refrain from giving much, if any, credence to a July 6 self-serving investigative report that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s health department issued regarding their own devastating decision to force nursing homes to accept COVID-19 infected patients from hospitals.
We should seek to learn from our mistakes, not cover them up. Notwithstanding the political claptrap spouted by the New York State Health Department report to exonerate state officials from their consequential decision, we must insist that other states now experiencing increased COVID-19 hospitalizations do not follow New York’s ill-advised nursing home policies.
On March 25, state health officials issued a mandate that nursing homes accept individuals known to be infected with the coronavirus. It’s understandable that the state was concerned about overwhelming hospitals, but it was indeed foolhardy to direct these infectious individuals to the places with the highest concentration of the frail elderly — those most susceptible to succumbing to the virus.
The edict was even more egregious due to the fact that alternative beds became available in the Javits Convention Center and the federal hospital ship that was sent to New York by the Trump administration. These alternative segregated beds were never used to their full capacity.
The virus spread like wildfire throughout nursing homes, leading to over 6,000 reported nursing facility deaths. The actual figure is much higher since the state deliberately diluted the numbers by not recording fatalities as being nursing home related if the individual contracted the virus in the nursing home, yet died at the hospital.
In all, a quarter to half of all New York COVID-19 deaths emanated from these nursing homes. The tragedy is that many, if not most, were avoidable.
As word leaked out about this nursing home fiasco, it had the potential to inflict severe damage to Gov. Cuomo politically. He had been flying high with enormous praise emanating from the liberal media due to his commanding press conferences, which juxtaposed nicely against the president’s less informative and more contentious pressers.
Cuomo’s popularity in New York swelled to unprecedented heights. He was even being touted as a potential replacement for Joe Biden on the Democratic presidential ticket. But that effusive chatter was crushed when focus shifted to Cuomo’s unforced error in demanding nursing home acceptance of COVID-19 patients.
The governor would like nothing more than to be able to refurbish his reputation by deflecting blame elsewhere. Thus, in what is a remarkably transparent conflict, the governor’s state health department issued a report that would exonerate his administration for these nursing home deaths and instead place the blame elsewhere. Is it any wonder that that’s exactly what they did in their report.
The report stated:
“Admission policies were not a significant factor in nursing home fatalities.
“Employee infections were related to the larger community spread and employee transmission has the strongest correlation to nursing home fatalities.”
But it’s hard for the New York health officials to claim they didn’t have an alternative path since we saw a better option followed in Florida. The Sunshine State may be having a surge in new COVID-19 cases (in part because of increased testing, but also probably due to a premature opening of bars), but Florida’s death rate is not even close to what New York experienced due to its nursing home blunder.
While testing kits were limited early on, Florida wisely banned the admission of COVID-19-infected patients into the homes, while simultaneously working with the facilities to get them needed protective equipment and to test staff and patients wherever possible.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis provided mobile testing labs that conducted 3,500 tests per day at long term facilities early on, with 32,000 residents and staff tested by mid-May.
That’s why Florida registered less than a quarter of the long term facility fatalities than New York did.
The Cuomo report’s effort to blame the deaths on infected staff bringing in the virus relies on the claim that one of four staffers tested positive. Overlooked is the fact that, at the time, that rate was twice the average of the general population. It’s more likely the staff became infected by residents than vice versa.
In either case, state officials should have been working with the homes early on, prioritizing testing (rather than waiting until mid-May to do so), and keeping infected residents in segregated alternative locations.
There is little doubt that the liberal media will use this self-serving study as an opportunity to shield a Democratic governor from having to take responsibility for his disastrous nursing home decision, but other states would be best served to ignore this politically motivated report and stick to common sense approach Florida employed in segregating infected patients from our nursing homes.