Amid wide-ranging criticism over rules that force New York nursing homes to accept coronavirus patients, health officials have released a new report indicating the massive outbreak of COVID-19 illnesses and deaths in the state’s long-term care facilities was not a result of the controversial policy.
Earlier this week, the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) issued a report (PDF) which 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 nursing home staff members with COVID-19.
In March, the NYSDOH issued an order requiring nursing homes to admit or readmit residents leaving hospitals after recovering from COVID-19. However, it did not require the patients be tested for the virus first. While the policy has since been repealed, it received widespread criticism for endangering other nursing home residents.
The new report claims about a quarter of the state’s nursing home staffers were infected between March and early June 2020, and that thousands of infected staff were at work in facilities during March statewide. The report refutes links between the admittance policy and the spread of the infections.
“Peak nursing home admissions occurred a week after peak nursing home mortality, therefore illustrating that nursing home admissions from hospitals were not a driver of nursing home infections or fatalities,” the report states. “Most patients admitted to nursing homes from hospitals were no longer contagious when admitted and therefore were not a source of infection…”
The report indicates about 37,500 nursing home staff members were infected with coronavirus from March to June, and nearly 7,000 of those were at work in facilities. The report also indicates peak worker illnesses corresponded with locations in the state where COVID-19 was peaking in the community, suggesting the workers got sick away from work and not in the nursing homes overall.
The findings have come under intense scrutiny, not the least of which due to the fact that it is the NYSDOH investigating itself and reporting that it did nothing wrong.
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.
At one point, nursing home patients accounted for more than one quarter of all coronavirus deaths, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
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.