COMMACK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) - The coronavirus pandemic has claimed the lives of nearly 5% of nursing home residents in New York State.
As CBS2's Tony Aiello reports, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's defense of a controversial nursing home policy is not going over well with critics who say CDC guidelines alone can't be blamed for the overwhelming number of deaths.
A March 25 directive is cited by many for contributing to the more than 5,000 New York nursing home deaths from COVID-19-related illnesses.
"We saw the ramifications could be potentially dangerous," Gurwin Health Care CEO Stuart Almer told Aiello. "I really found this has been damaging to nursing homes and our reputation. The wonderful work we do gets lost."
Almer believes New York's Department of Health put the industry in a difficult position with the March 25 order requiring homes to take stable COVID patients while prohibiting them from requiring they test negative.
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Petition and email campaigns warned introducing COVID patients to nursing homes put vulnerable residents at risk.
Cuomo rescinded the order on May 10, and this week blamed the original policy on the Trump administration.
"Why did the state do that with COVID patients in nursing homes?" said the governor. "It's because the state followed President Trump's CDC guidelines. So they should ask President Trump."
That answer did not impress Queens Assemblyman Ron Kim, who CBS2 asked if the state's guidance was a tragic mistake.
"Absolutely. It wasn't just a mistake, it was a fatal mistake that led to wide confusion," Kim said. "The directive treated nursing homes as if they were hospitals, and they're not."
New York has 40% more nursing homes residents than Florida, but 700% more nursing home deaths.
"You can't go on national TV one day and say 'The buck stops with me, blame me,' and the next day things don't go well, blame everyone else," he said.
New York knew early that COVID could sweep through nursing homes.
"I'm worried about nursing homes, senior care facilities," said Gov. Andrew Cuomo on March 5.
The state also started planning for a worst-case scenario – needing 140,000 hospital beds. Ultimately, only 20,000 were used.
The nursing home mandate was intended to relieve pressure on hospitals.
"As soon as we saw the mandate, certainly we were very concerned, as were all family members with the concern they might expose their loved ones to COVID-19," Almer said.
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Almer went public with his worries, and families began petition and email campaigns to change the policy, which Cuomo did on May 10.
"Hospitals, going forward, cannot discharge a patient to a nursing home unless the patient tests negative for COVID-19," said the governor.
Is the mandate to blame?
"You can't draw a straight line to that and spreading positive cases, but intuitively that is what may have occurred," Almer said.
"If the second wave hits us, what do we need to better in protecting the most vulnerable members of our communities?" said Kim.
Lessons learned at a terrible cost.
The Cuomo administration emphasizes all directives from the Department of Health conform to guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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