OPINION This nursing home disaster is on you, Gov. Cuomo: Goodwin
By: Michael Goodwin
Two weeks ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was first asked about his policy that forced nursing homes to admit patients infected with the coronavirus.
“That’s a good question, I don’t know,” the governor answered, turning to an aide.
On Tuesday, Cuomo was asked about a report from the Associated Press that his team had added more than 1,700 deaths to the count of those who died in nursing homes, bringing the total to at least 4,813.
“I don’t know the details, frankly,” the governor answered, turning to an aide.
Sgt. Schultz reporting for duty!
Cuomo is legendary for micromanaging and has been praised for his detailed daily briefings during the pandemic. He has closed schools, religious services and businesses because each human life is “priceless.”
So with known nursing home deaths representing 25 percent of all deaths in the state, it beggars belief that the governor didn’t know anything about his office’s fatal policy two weeks ago or the new death totals now.
The only way either could be true is through an extreme case of plausible deniability. Thus, if there’s no proof he knew, he can’t be held responsible, right? Which was the whole point of the Sgt. Schultz defense.
That was a sitcom. This is life and death.
And if you are the governor of the state that is the national epicenter of the deadly outbreak, you don’t have the luxury of not knowing, or pretending not to know, about the horrendous carnage in nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. And if your policies contributed to that carnage, the decent thing to do is to own your mistakes and fix them.
In fact, Cuomo does claim to know something about nursing homes and COVID-19 patients. He says the former can refuse to take the latter.
“The nursing home has to make the decision,” he said Tuesday. “If they don’t think they can take care of someone, all they have to do is say no.”
In this case, he “knows” something that’s simply not true, according to nursing home executives. The March 25 order that forced infected patients on them allows for no exceptions and has not been changed.
The killer fifth paragraph still reads: “No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the NH solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19. NHs are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.”
Owners and managers said Tuesday they are not aware of any loosening of the policy. They also say that hospitals still are referring infected patients to them on a near-daily basis and they are expected to take them if they have an empty bed.
To them, the March 25 order was a death sentence. Some facilities say they had no deaths or even positive patients before that date, but many of both since, including among staff members.
Recall, too, the experience of Donny Tuchman, CEO of Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill Health Center. On April 24, when his facility already had lost 55 patients, he showed reporters email exchanges with the Department of Health where he got no help when he asked for relief. Even his request to have some of the COVID-19 patients sent to the Javits Center or the Navy ship Comfort, both of which were well below capacity , was rejected.
As the Post front-page headline said the next day, “THEY KNEW,” meaning the state could no longer pretend it had no idea of the chaos it inflicted on nursing homes.
Cuomo, in response, has constructed an evolving litany of self-defenses, once coldly asserting it was “not our job” to help the homes get protective equipment for their staffs, even as other officials said the equipment was being provided. His office claimed the state policy mirrored federal policy, which, as the AP noted in its report, isn’t true. The feds never mandated that nursing homes be forced to accept COVID-19 patients.
On other days, Cuomo threatened to remove the facilities’ licenses and warned them against committing perjury in their death reports.
Flexing his power to punish them, he launched, with the state attorney general, an investigation of the facilities.
Two other things Cuomo said Tuesday also bear remembering. First, he allowed that “we did some very harsh things” to nursing homes that “frankly, I wasn’t comfortable with.” He then cited the order barring visitors for the last two months.
It was indeed harsh, especially for the families who never saw their loved ones again before the virus killed them. By the same token, those families want to know why in the world the state would bar them from nursing homes but simultaneously impose infected patients on the same facilities.
Finally, on Tuesday, after an aide tried to explain the differences between “confirmed” and “probable” death counts, the governor interjected that “I would take all the numbers now with a grain of salt.”So never mind?
Who is online