ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- The political spectacle over responsibility for COVID-19 related nursing home deaths in New York continues to intensify. For almost a year Governor Andrew Cuomo and his administration have taken heat over nursing home guidance.
Reportedly, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has begun investigating both the Governor and the Governor’s Coronavirus Task Force for any wrongdoing related to COVID-related nursing home resident deaths. Although the FBI will not comment on current investigations, sources confirmed to ABC News that subpoenas have been issued.
COVID-19 cases were just beginning to rise in the state when the Department of Health set forth guidelines to help nursing and long-term facilities prepare and facilitate care during the pandemic. The DOH issued its guidance in late March.
Part of that guidance required returning recovering COVID-19 positive nursing home residents to skilled nursing facilities from hospitals. It was widely criticized by elder care organizations.
“It is absolutely horrifying and cries out for action. Governor Cuomo has shown tremendous leadership during this pandemic by ensuring hospitals were and are prepared to handle the influx of infected New Yorkers; now he needs to show the same leadership to help the long-term care system,” said AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel.
Nursing facilities were told by Dr. Zucker in a letter on April 29, if they could not separate COVID-positive residents from COVID-negative residents they should transfer residents to another facility. “If your facility is unable to meet cohorting standards or any infection control standards,
admission must be suspended to the facility,” the letter said.
The DOH reversed its guidance requiring recovering COVID-positive patients to be sent back to nursing facilities on May 10. Almost two weeks later, Gov. Cuomo defended the policy. He said “the state had followed President Trump’s CDC’s guidance” and that the move was made in an attempt to keep hospital beds open.
A week before the reversal, former Gov. George Pataki joined with lawmakers calling for an independent investigation into Gov. Cuomo’s administration’s guidance to nursing facilities, according to WETM.
“It’s a disgrace. We had a horrible condition with thousands of deaths in the nursing homes and then today to find out there were 1,700 additional nursing home deaths in New York and assisted living facilities that we hadn’t even heard about. It’s just incomprehensible,” he said.
Congresswoman Elise Stefanik called on the Federal Government to investigate. “I do think it’s important to have an independent investigation to provide answers to those families who have lost loved ones and are truly heartbroken,” she said.
COVID-19 was most likely brought into nursing facilities by staff, the DOH claimed in a report released in early July. Although the DOH reversed its guidance returning recovering residents to facilities, the measure was still seen by some as contributing to the rise in cases among nursing facility residents.
DOH said there was no data to support the idea that the coronavirus entered nursing homes through direct hospital admissions because the virus was already there.
“An analysis of the timing of admissions versus fatalities shows that it could not be the driver of nursing home infections or fatalities. An individual nursing home-by-nursing home analysis of admissions versus fatalities further supports this finding,” the report said.
Legislative hearings started on August 3 as lawmakers sought more information on COVID-related nursing facility deaths. At that time more than 6,400 nursing facility residents died throughout the state from COVID-19 related complications.
Dr. Howard Zucker faced questions regarding his testimony from Democrats and Republicans regarding how nursing facility COVID-related deaths were counted, restricting visitation, and March guidance that put recovering COVID-positive residents back in facilities.
“[We] want to make sure that we save lives and by changing policy we might be able to do that, and that is what these hearings are all about,” said Senator Gustavo Rivera.
“As it stands, someone who’s in a nursing home as a resident gets infected in their nursing home, but loses their life in a hospital or elsewhere is not counted as a COVID nursing home death. So, first, how many other states similarly do not count the aforementioned as a nursing home death?” asked Senator James Skoufis.
“I can’t give you the answer on the number of states. I know that the data that’s coming into the CDC, and I’ve spoken to the CDC many times is quite fragmented regarding different states,” Dr. Zucker responded.
New York was one of four states to receive a request for information pertaining to nursing facility resident COVID-related deaths from the U.S. Department of Justice. The Justice Department alleged recovering nursing residents in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan were sent back to nursing homes without proper testing to make sure they could not spread the virus.
“Protecting the rights of some of society’s most vulnerable members, including elderly nursing home residents, is one of our country’s most important obligations. We must ensure they are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk,” said Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband.
“In this hyper-political environment… everybody wants to point fingers,” Gov. Cuomo said on CBS’ “This Morning” in an appearance to promote his book on handling the COVID-19 pandemic in early October, reported by the Associated Press.