More than 15,000 long-term care residents have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic and lawmakers are now tasked with working to come up with legislation they believe will help better protect residents and staff.

On Thursday, the New York State Assembly passed a package of reform bills that would establish looser visitation rules and more oversight into these facilities.

One bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Ron Kim, would repeal the immunity clause that shielded nursing home facilities from any lawsuits during the worst of the pandemic.

This bill was slipped into the budget at the 11th hour by Governor Andrew Cuomo last year.

“This was a poison bill and we’re going to end it,” Assemblyman Kim said. “We’re going back to normal standard liability where patients and nursing home residents and families have their rights restored.”

But these bills are just the first step in a long laundry list of ideas. 

The state Senate also passed their own package of reform bills and even Cuomo has a few proposals on his list.

The attorney general in a report from earlier this year found correlations between the number of COVID-19 related nursing home deaths and for-profit facilities, writing that the immunity provision could have provided a financial incentive for some for-profit facilities to invest less in care. 

The report also focused on how staffing levels could have had an impact on the number of resident deaths.

However, this report was written before the complete number of COVID-19 related nursing home deaths was released, and even the attorney general noted that the state was undercounting nursing home deaths by more than 50 percent.

For this reason, Bill Hammond a health policy researcher at the Empire Center, a conservative think tank, did a new analysis on these COVID-19 deaths and their potential correlation with these policies.

According to Hammond, he found very little connection between coronavirus deaths, staffing levels, and for-profit ownership.

“I don’t think they should be presenting these particular proposals as solutions that would have saved people from coronavirus,” Hammond said. “They may have, but the evidence suggests that these were not significant factors.”

With the now mostly complete number of COVID-19 related nursing home deaths, Hammond said downstate for-profit nursing homes showed lower COVID-19 mortality rates than not-for profit.

On the other hand, upstate for-profit facilities did have a higher COVID-19 mortality rate, yet Hammond said that these homes also accepted more COVID-19-positive residents from hospitals under the March 25 memo.

“For-profits admitted more than their fair share of the COVID positive discharges that were sent to nursing homes under the March 25 guidance from the Health Department,” Hammond said.

Hammond did admit that although there might not be a correlation between the number of deaths and these for-profit facilities, some of these policies could improve quality of care.

“We’re not commenting on how for-profit rating or staffing affects overall quality of nursing homes," he said. "That is a big, complicated topic that the legislature needs to do something about. I think the quality of our nursing homes is not what it should be.”

The analysis also showed that the seven state-owned veteran nursing homes had a higher COVID-19 mortality rate that any other facility.