NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - An astonishing number of coronavirus-related deaths are happening inside nursing homes and adult care centers. After being asked why they weren't doing more to help, New York's governor and New York City's mayor announced plans.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo again reiterated that residential facilities and nursing homes are private entities that are regulated by the state, but are not state-run, reports CBS2's Lisa Rozner.
That's a distinction that means little to people with family in long-term care facilities, such as a daughter who fears a recent Facetime call with her mother is the last time she'll speak to her.
The woman says her mother caught COVID-19 at the Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing Facility in Whitestone, N.Y.
"My mom, I'm fighting for her, I'm trying to keep her alive," she said.
She says short-staffing has lead to some residents not getting food or medications, but the nursing home administrator denies those allegations. The daughter says an outbreak began after patients were transferred there from New York Presbyterian Queens, though the hospital won't confirm or comment.
The state says six people have died there from the virus.
The state is requiring nursing homes to admit hospital patients that are medically stable, but Monday, Cuomo said he wasn't aware of the policy.
On Thursday, Cuomo announced changes making the nursing home responsible for making sure residents are taken care of. Homes are required to notify loved ones and residents of a COVID-positive case or death within 24 hours.
Cuomo said the state's attorney general will launch an investigation into nursing homes to make sure they are following all state regulations.
"Mother Nature brought a virus. And the virus attacks... old people. Nothing went wrong. Nobody's to blame for the creation of the situation, but they have to deal with the situation," Cuomo said.
Cuomo said that nursing homes need to follow state rules: If they can't provide adequate care or arrange for the patient to be transferred, they are required to contact the state, which will make the arrangement.
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"This state has very strict guidelines on privately run facilities, they get paid to take care of a resident that resident that patient must have a state directed level of care. If they cannot provide that they can't have the resident in their facility, period," said Cuomo. "Those are the rules. We're going to undertake an investigation of nursing homes now to make sure they're following the rules, it's going to be a joint Department of Health and attorney general investigation.
"But those are the rules, they get paid to take care of a resident, and they have to do, do it in accordance with state rules and if they don't, we will take appropriate action," he said. "If they're not being followed. They can be subjected to a fine, or they can lose their license. It's that simple."
New York State has more than 3,500 people in nursing homes and adult care facilities that have died, almost a quarter of the state's total COVID fatalities.
The hardest-hit facility is the Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn where 55 residents have died. There's been more than 40 deaths in at least one facility in Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island, and the Mary Manning Walsh Home in Manhattan has lost 32.
In New York City, nursing homes are getting a much-needed boost in the battle against COVID-19.
Mayor Bill de Blasio says a surge of supplies and staff will be sent to nursing homes around the city this week.
"Our city's nursing homes are home to some of those most at risk for COVID-19," the mayor said in a statement. "They need our support more than ever, which is why we are stepping in and sending more staff and support to assist those who protect and care for our most vulnerable."
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De Blasio said the city already sends nearly 10 million pieces of personal protective equipment – including N95 and surgical masks, eye protection, gowns and gloves - to 169 facilities each week.
Now, weekly shipments will increase by at least 50%.
The mayor also said the city has sent more than 400 clinical staff volunteers to 40 nursing homes and will double that amount moving forward.
"It's a part of the equation we've had to learn in a new way to actually be able to be helpful," said de Blasio.
One attorney who spoke to CBS2 said New York does not have a law requiring specific amounts of staff at nursing homes which has lead to this crisis.
"Unfortunately nursing homes, and this goes back prior to the current health crisis, are notoriously understaffed," said John Dalli, an elder care attorney.
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It is not clear how much more emergency staffing will be needed to now save the state's most vulnerable residents.
Williams and Adams said they asked the state to mandate homes enable video communication with residents, provide personal protection equipment to staff and allow random inspections.
The New York Attorney's General office released a statement on nursing homes on Thursday:
"We recognize that the most vulnerable New Yorkers are continuing to suffer through this crisis at nursing homes across the state. While our Medicaid Fraud Control Unit continues to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect in the system, we launched a hotline where residents, families, or members of the public can share complaints about nursing homes that have not provided required communications with families about COVID-19 diagnoses or fatalities. The hotline will also accept complaints about nursing home abuse and neglect, including failure to follow rules to keep residents safe. Every nursing home should be provided with adequate PPE and testing, and enhanced infection control protocols must be implemented to protect residents. I am grateful to the workers in our nursing homes who continue to serve and support our vulnerable residents. These workers deserve our respect and must also be tested and protected during this time. My office will continue to work hard to protect residents of nursing homes and make sure their rights are preserved during this crisis and beyond."
Families with questions, concerns and confidential complaints can share them with the New York Attorney's General office online at ag.ny.gov/nursinghomes or by calling 833-249-8499.
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