The New York State Department of Health has concluded that an executive order requiring nursing homes to readmit coronavirus patients, issued by Governor Andrew Cuomo, was not the driving factor behind coronavirus deaths in the state’s nursing homes.
On March 25, Cuomo ordered nursing homes and long-term care facilities to readmit patients who had been hospitalized with coronavirus, even if the patients were not fully recovered. The order has been criticized for possibly leading to additional deaths in nursing homes, which have appeared as a major incubating ground for coronavirus.
New York health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker defended the state’s policy at a press conference on Monday, saying that “admission policies were not a significant factor in nursing home fatalities.” State assemblyman Ron Kim, a Democrat representing Queens, slammed the report as a “cover-up.”
“This is a conflict of interest for the health department to investigate its own poor decisions,” Kim told the New York Post. “For them to say that the decision of sending COVID-19 patients from hospitals into nursing did not contribute to increasing infections is ludicrous.”
According to the new Department of Health report, the number of infections in nursing homes was driven by visits from already-infected staff or family members. Additionally, the report states that of 310 unique nursing homes that readmitted coronavirus patients from March 25 to May 8, 252 “already had a suspected or confirmed COVID-positive resident, COVID-related confirmed or presumed fatality, or worker infected prior to admission of a single COVID-positive patient — meaning the admission of a COVID patient did not introduce COVID into the nursing home as it was already present.”
New York’s reported coronavirus fatality count from nursing homes currently stands at around 6,500. However, the state only classifies coronavirus deaths as occurring in nursing homes if the patient passes away while physically present at a nursing home. If a nursing-home resident dies at a hospital after having been transferred out, the death is not counted as having come from a long-term care facility.
A June 30 report from the Empire Center, a think tank based in Albany, shows that the vacancy rate at nursing homes in New York soared during the coronavirus pandemic. While not all of these vacancies can be attributed to coronavirus deaths, author Bill Hammond, the center’s senior fellow for health policy, estimates that over 10,000 nursing home residents have died as a result of coronavirus.