Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino (R,C,I-Sayville), a member of the Assembly Committee on Health, is calling for the committee to exercise oversight to help discover what made New York nursing homes especially vulnerable to high COVID-19 death rates. He and his colleague, Assemblyman Kevin Byrne (R,C,Ref-Mahopac), who is the ranking Republican of the Assembly Health Committee, wrote Assemblyman Richard Gotfried, the committee chair calling for a hearing into the problems faced by nursing homes when managing the COVID-19 response.
“Every day I receive calls from family members who are worried sick about their loved ones in nursing homes where the death rate has been devastatingly high. Our state health officials knew very well how dangerous the coronavirus is for the elderly, yet forced these facilities to take in COVID-19 patients even when they were still sick which introduced this lethal virus into a highly vulnerable population,” said Garbarino. “It is not enough to say that the attorney general will take care of it or that the Department of Health will oversee this, the legislature needs to step in and provide oversight in the matter. This cannot happen again. We need to make sure our most vulnerable New Yorkers are protected.”
“The New York State Legislature has subpoena power and the ability to conduct public hearings. Even as we live in this crazy time when our physical interactions are limited we can still connect virtually to do our jobs. Relying solely on an investigation by the state’s attorney general into nursing homes is a mistake and ignores the inherent bias the state has toward itself. In the interest of openness and transparency, the health committee should host a public hearing on the state’s handling of nursing homes throughout this pandemic. Sunshine is a great disinfectant. I thank Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino for his leadership on this pressing issue,” said Byrne.
More than 3,500 individuals in nursing homes have passed away because of COVID-19, accounting for roughly 25 percent of the deaths. Long Island-area nursing homes were particularly impacted, including 52 deaths at the Long Island Veterans Home at Stony Brook.
On March 25, the Department of Health required nursing homes and facilities to accept patients regardless of their COVID-19 status. These nursing facilities have made an effort to seek alternative placement to protect residents, however, the state denied facilities from doing so. Also troublingly, there has been a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for nursing home staff and a lack of space to isolate these sick patients from the general population of nursing homes.
Garbarino said the Legislature should conduct hearings to discover the systematic problems faced by nursing homes during the COVID-19 response. Discovery from these hearings, along with efforts from the attorney general and the Department of Health, can lead to better strategies and policies for nursing home facilities during pandemic health crises in the future.