COVID-19 claimed the life of more than 6,000 nursing home residents and the question as to why continues to remain.
The state Legislature held its second hearing on COVID-19’s impact on nursing homes, this time with a specific focus on upstate New York facilities.
Family members of residents who passed away in nursing homes testified about a lack of testing during the height of the pandemic and limited communication with their loved ones.
Mary Jo Botindari, who currently resides in Syracuse, says she pleaded with nursing home officials to test her father who lived in a home.
“I asked again, will he be tested for COVID? That I wanted him tested,” Botindari explained. “I was told no again. They felt it unnecessary. I asked if they had at least separated my dad from his roommate. And I was told no, he was still in the same room.”
“My father died two days later with no test,” Botindari continued.
Nursing Home Industry officials, however, said this lack of testing was due the limited amount available.
They also pointed to staffing shortages that were a problem before the pandemic and only heightened once employees started to get sick, as well as the inability to procure adequate PPE, all together leaving nursing homes unprepared.
“Nursing homes in April, in one of the busier weeks, were going through 12 million pieces of PPE per week,” Jim Clyne President of LeadingAge NY said during the hearing.
Clyne and Stephen Hanse, president of the New York State Health Facilities Association, testified that when nursing homes attempted to contact the Office of Emergency Management to receive more PPE, they were not able to get through.
Senator James Skoufis questioned both, however, on how it was possible for not a single facility to have lost its license due to inadequate practices.
Back in April, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an Executive Order that state would be launching an investigation into long-term care facilities after numerous stories of underreporting and poor practices in nursing homes.
The Health Department launched investigations into nursing homes, saying it would revoke licenses of facilities that failed to meet standards.
Later in June, the Health Department told Spectrum News that they had conducted 1,000 onsite Infection Control COVID-19 Focus Surveys at nursing homes and adult care facilities.
“Can either of you attest to any of your members or any of your facilities having their licenses suspended,” Senator Skoufis questioned.
“None of our members had their license suspended as consequence of 202.23,” Hanse replied.
“Neither have we,” Clyne said.
On Monday, DOH officials sent a statement in response to questions surrounding these inspections saying, “The Department of Health has conducted 1,300 COVID infection control inspections– at least one onsite visit to every single nursing home and adult care facility in the state – since March 1. Every survey that results in a finding of a COVID related deficiency has been referred for enforcement.”
Clyne, however, defended the lack of licenses being suspended, saying the state is not too lax in its investigations, it is inconsistent.
“Facilities in the capital District get three times the violations of facilities downstate,” Clyne said. “Does anyone really think that downstate facilities are three times better than the capital District?”
When Health Department officials testified at the first hearing, they said that they provided more than 14 million pieces of PPE to nursing home facilities and created a staffing portal of approximately 97,000 professional volunteers.
However, neither the Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker nor any member of the Health Department were invited to testify at Monday’s hearing.
GOP Legislative members angrily criticized Democratic lawmakers who are in control of the two legislative hearings on nursing homes, saying that the Health Department was getting away with not answering important questions on nursing home deaths.
“I am really disappointed to see that the Department of Health and the Governor’s Office showed such a blatant disregard for upstate New Yorkers by failing to appear here today,” Senator Sue Serino said during the hearing.
"I think upstate deserves better," Assemblyman Jake Ashby said.