Over 9,000 virus patients sent into New York nursing homes

NEW YORK (AP) — More than 9,000 recovering coronavirus patients in New York state were released from hospitals into nursing homes early in the pandemic under a controversial directive that was scrapped amid criticism it accelerated outbreaks, according to new records obtained by The Associated Press (AP).

The new number of 9,056 recovering patients sent to hundreds of nursing homes is more than 40 per cent higher than what the state health department previously released. And it raises new questions as to whether a March 25 directive from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration helped spread sickness and death among residents, a charge the state disputes.

“The lack of transparency and the meting out of bits of important data has undermined our ability to both recognise the scope and severity of what’s going on” and address it, said Executive Director at the Long Term Care Community Coalition Richard Mollot, a residents advocacy group.

The new figures come as the Cuomo administration has been forced in recent weeks to acknowledge it has been underreporting the overall number of COVID-19 deaths among long-term care residents. It is now nearly 15,000 up from the 8,500 previously disclosed.

The Cuomo administration’s March 25 directive barred nursing homes from refusing people just because they had COVID-19. It was intended to free up space in hospitals swamped in the early days of the pandemic. It came under criticism from advocates for nursing home residents and their relatives, who said it had the potential to spread the virus in a state that at the time already had the nation’s highest nursing home death toll.

In its reply to an AP freedom of information request from May, the state health department this week released two figures: a previously disclosed count of 6,327 admissions of patients directly from hospitals and a new count of 2,729 “readmissions” of patients sent back from a hospital to the nursing home where they had lived before.

Before the state released any data, the AP conducted its own survey and found at least 4,500 such patients. Critics have long argued there were many other places those patients could have been sent, including New York City’s Jacob Javits Convention Center, which had been set up as a makeshift hospital, and the USS Comfort military hospital ship.

The state contends those facilities were not suitable substitutes for the care of nursing homes. Cuomo since reversed the directive, barring nursing homes from accepting COVID-19 patients without a negative test first.