Some New York officials are calling for an independent investigation into the response and handling of COVID-19 outbreaks at nursing homes and long term care facilities, which have resulted in more than 50,000 deaths across the nation.
The Fulton County, New York Board of Supervisors passed a resolution on Monday, requesting that the state legislator establish a COVID-19 response commission to investigate the disproportionately high mortality rate among nursing home facility residents in New York, which have accounted for more than one-tenth of the reported deaths in such facilities across the country.
New York Senate Bill S. 8756, which is currently in the Senate Committee Rules Committee, would establish a temporary bipartisan commission to examine state policies and study the effects of the state’s COVID-19 response, to gain insight on how to better respond to a second wave, or how future pandemics could be better handled to reduce death tolls.
The bill was introduced following public outcry over an estimated 6,500 to 7,000 deaths occurring in New York state nursing homes, which some have claimed could be a significant undercount. Under the bill, committee members would be given the power to subpoena to fully investigate fatalities and undertake any studies, inquiries, surveys or analyses deemed fit to develop recommendations for legislative action.
According to the bill, the committee would be established immediately and continue in full force and effect until one year after the report and recommendations are delivered to the governor.
Although many states struggled to keep the most vulnerable populations in nursing homes and long term care facilities safe during the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus, New York was found to have an inordinately higher mortality rate in comparison to other states.
New York has 613 nursing home facilities statewide that house approximately 100,000 residents. The call for an independent investigation out of Fulton County, New York was prompted by the significant impact in their district, which had reported 320 positive COVID-19 cases, with 28 deaths reported in Fulton Center for Rehabilitation and Health Care alone.
In July, the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) issued a report (PDF) that sought to explain high rates of nursing home COVID-19 infections, which many critics previously blamed on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s policy requiring facilities to take in coronavirus-infected patients. However, the study’s findings say the policy was not at fault, and that the infection was spread primarily by 7,000 nursing home staff members from March to June who were actively working in facilities.
Throughout the course of the pandemic, significant attention has been placed on the outbreak’s progress through nursing homes, which have been hard hit due to low levels of staffing, a lack of preparation, and the elderly’s increased vulnerability to the effects of the virus.
In August, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a report indicating nursing home and long term health care facilities had reported 216,219 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with another 129,338 suspected cases. Of the confirmed cases, a total of 53,196 COVID-19 related deaths were reported.
Federal investigators are exploring the possibility of nursing home neglect playing a role in the COVID-19 outbreak, which was first detected in a nursing home in Washington State that became the epicenter for the U.S. pandemic. Investigators say the nursing home failed to respond to the outbreak adequately, placing residents in jeopardy of illness and death.
Facing growing criticism and lawsuits, many nursing homes are seeking immunity from coronavirus death lawsuits.