Blame game? Cuomo takes heat over NY nursing home study

NEW YORK (AP) — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing blistering criticism over an internal report that found a controversial state directive that sent thousands of recovering coronavirus patients into nursing homes was “not a significant factor” in some of the nation’s deadliest nursing home outbreaks.

Scientists, healthcare professionals and elected officials assailed the report released last week for flawed methodology and selective stats that sidestepped the actual impact of the March 25 order, which by the state’s own count ushered more than 6,300 recovering virus patients into nursing homes at the height of the pandemic.

And some accused the state of using the veneer of a scientific study to absolve the Democratic governor by reaching the same conclusion he had been floating for weeks — that unknowingly infected nursing home employees were the major drivers of the outbreaks.

“I think they got a lot of political pushback and so their response was, ‘This isn’t a problem. Don’t worry about it,’” said an epidemiologist at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health Rupak Shivakoti.

“It seems like the Department of Health is trying to justify what was an untenable policy,” added Professor Emerita of nursing and sociology at the University of California at San Francisco Charlene Harrington. Cuomo, who has been praised for leadership that helped flatten the curve of infections in New York, has also been criticised over his handling of nursing homes, specifically the order that told homes they could not refuse to accept recovering COVID-19 patients from hospitals as long as the patients were “medically stable”. The order barred homes from even testing such patients to see if they still had the virus.

A patient is prepared to be loaded into the back of an ambulance by emergency medical workers outside Cobble Hill Health Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York. PHOTO: AP

The directive was intended to free up hospital beds for the sickest patients as cases surged. But relatives, patient advocates and nursing home administrators have called it a misguided decision, blaming it for helping to spread the virus among the state’s most vulnerable residents.

Cuomo reversed the order under pressure on May 10, long after New York’s death toll in care homes had climbed to among the highest in the nation. To date, nearly 6,500 deaths have been linked to the coronavirus in the state’s nursing home and long-term care-facilities.

But the 33-page state report flatly said “that nursing home admissions from hospitals were not a driver of nursing home infections or fatalities.”

Instead, it said the virus’ rampant run through New York nursing homes was propelled by the 37,500 nursing home workers who became infected between mid-March and early June and unknowingly passed the virus on.

The report noted that the number of residents dying at nursing homes peaked on April 8, around the same time as COVID-19 deaths statewide, but nearly a week before the peak of coronavirus patients being transferred from hospitals.

It also said 80 per cent of the 310 nursing homes that admitted coronavirus patients already had a confirmed or suspected case among its residents or staff before the directive was issued. And it contends the median number of coronavirus patients sent to nursing homes had been hospitalised for nine days, the same period that the study said it likely takes for the virus to no longer be contagious. “If you were to place blame, I would blame coronavirus,” State Health Commissioner Dr Howard Zucker told reporters last week.

Cuomo said in a later news conference that “ugly politics” were behind “this political conspiracy that the deaths in nursing homes were preventable. And now the report has the facts, and the facts tell the opposite story.”