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Nursing homes are Cuomo's 'biggest fear' as Covid-19 deaths rise

New York's nursing homes remain a "feeding frenzy" for Covid-19 and a focus of concern for public health officials, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Saturday.

Another 36 nursing home residents in the state died Friday from the coronavirus.

That adds to the statewide total of 2,690 deaths at New York's nursing homes as of Wednesday, a figure that may not fully account for the virus' toll within this vulnerable population.

"Nursing homes are the single biggest fear in all of this," Cuomo said during his news briefing Saturday. "Vulnerable people in one place. It is the feeding frenzy for this virus, despite everything we can do and the best efforts of people working in those nursing homes who are doing a fantastic job."

The Cuomo administration in recent days has begun reporting more information about Covid-19 confirmed cases and fatalities at nursing homes in the state. This came at the prodding of families of residents and news outlets to provide these details.

New York's 613 licensed nursing homes have about 95,000 residents.

The state Health Department as of Wednesday reported 6,475 confirmed Covid-19 cases at 354 of those facilities. That's among nearly 237,000 confirmed cases of the virus throughout New York.

The state for the first time Friday identified nursing homes where five or more residents had died. There are 69 such nursing homes where 1,115 residents had died as of Wednesday.

In this area, three nursing homes made the list: Garden Gate Health Care Facility in Cheektowaga, with 11 deaths; Harris Hill Nursing Facility, with nine; and Father Baker Manor in Orchard Park, with six.

Reporters on Saturday pressed Cuomo on complaints from some family members that nursing home operators aren't telling them enough about Covid-19 outbreaks at the facilities, particularly when staffers test positive for the virus.

The governor emphasized the facilities are privately run.

"We have basic regulations of nursing homes," Cuomo said. "We don't get into a fine detail of what a nursing home does in the policy of communication with family members."

But he defended the state's efforts at transparency.

"I think we release probably more than any other state in terms of nursing home data," Cuomo said. "I don't know what else we could release, beyond number of deaths per nursing home, that doesn't violate health care privacy."

State regulators and nursing home administrators have cited the need to protect the privacy of residents' medical records in declining to provide more detailed information about Covid-19 cases and deaths.

Cuomo did say the state will respond to complaints from family members that a specific nursing home is not responding to their requests for information.

The state last week issued an order that nursing homes must within 24 hours inform next of kin that a resident has tested positive for, or died from, coronavirus or face a $2,000 fine.

But Cuomo said he doesn't believe nursing homes are acting in bad faith or trying to minimize the spread of the virus at their facilities.

"I think, more than anything, it's – they're overwhelmed, they're overwhelmed," Cuomo said. "They have staff shortages. Staff are getting sick. The residents of the nursing home are under tremendous pressure. They haven't seen a loved one. They haven't had any visitors."

Cuomo last month barred visitors at the state's nursing homes, with narrow exceptions for medical necessity.

The governor said he hears from nursing home operators and understands their perspective.

"People are dying. And then you have the state come in saying, 'You must report this, you must report this, I want this report by 5 o'clock,' " Cuomo said. "And they're saying to me, 'With all due respect, governor, I'm taking care of people's lives and you're saying do paperwork.' "

The state health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, on Friday had said the state is prioritizing working with nursing homes to provide more safety equipment, to boost staffing and to increase Covid-19 testing.

But one day later, in response to a question, Cuomo said the state has no way of knowing how many Covid-19 tests nursing homes have performed.

"Nursing homes conduct their own tests. Again, they're private facilities, they're private-run facilities," he said.

News Staff Reporter Lou Michel contributed to this report.

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