In the first hours of her administration, Gov. Kathy Hochul pledged to strengthen basic transparency for public records requests and reporting during the pandemic. Her office began to emphasize data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on COVID-19 deaths, which is seen as more complete.
But lawmakers and advocates for nursing homes and long-term facilities in New York do not want her repeating the mistakes of her predecessor, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
"This is a tough issue and I get it, but unless we come together and have honest and tough conversations, how can we help our senior population in New York?" said Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Queens Democrat and vocal critic of Cuomo's handling of nursing homes.
The U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn opened a criminal investigation into how the governor's office under Cuomo reported nursing home fatality, a separate probe from the civil investigation into nursing home policy in New York that has since ended.
Cuomo and his former aides have denied any wrongdoing. Still, the subtext of Hochul's transparency drive to reverse the image of the governor's office and state government at large has been too secretive and unresponsive.
Kim believes Hochul should go further, including meeting with nursing home family members of those who have died during the pandemic. He also called for a commission to review what went wrong in nursing homes, which would likely included a controversial March 2020 order that led to the transfer of COVID-19 positive patients into nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
At the same time, Kim wants the state to boost staffing in the facilities.
"We need to understand what it takes to attract new staff and retain them in this industry," he said. "That's going to take a lot of effort. The families and the workers are the ones who have the clear answers, because they're on the ground seeing the failures in real time."
Jim Clyne, the president of Leading Age New York, a group that represents non-profit care facilities, says attracting workers in meaningful work like caring for the vulnerable is possible.
"To recruit and retain workers so we have a sufficient number to care for the seniors we're taking care of, that's got to be job number one," he said.
But money is needed. Clyne this month in a letter urged the state Department of Health to provide more funding to long-term care facilities to increase hiring as well as create smaller settings for residents, relying on federal support from the Medicaid program.
"Without some investment in the long-term care system, I think we're going to be stuck with the system we have right now," he said. "Whereas if we have some dollars right now, we could go in, we could benefit some people who are receiving services."
The Department of Health in a statement to Spectrum News 1 said it was already in the process of applying for the Medicaid funding through the waiver proccess.
"The Department submitted a concept paper to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requesting $17 billion in new Medicaid funding over five years as part of an 1115 Waiver Demonstration because it is designed to address the link between health disparities and systemic health care delivery issues that have been highlighted and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which include many components of the Long Term Care sector," a spokesman said.
Overall, Clyne hopes the new governor will take a different approach to the issue than her predeccesor and pay attention to the issue.
"We think the governor has a chance to come in and really take a new approach, a partnership approach, where we try and provide the best level of care," he said.