In the wake of thousands of coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday that the state would take away the license of nursing homes that do not follow state guidelines.
Among those guidelines is a mandate announced Sunday that requires twice-weekly testing of nursing home workers.
Cuomo also stressed there is an existing state requirement that nursing homes must contact the New York State Department of Health if they are unable to care for a patient so that the person can be transferred.
"If a nursing home operator does not follow these procedures, they will lose their license," the governor said. "Well, that's harsh. No. Harsh is having a nursing home resident who doesn't get the appropriate care. That's what's harsh."
There have been 5,244 confirmed or suspected Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes through May 8, according to State Department of Health statistics. That includes 154 deaths in Erie County and 30 in Niagara County.
During his daily coronavirus briefing from Albany, Cuomo also set the stage for two upcoming issues this week:
- The possible reopening of some of the state's regions with Friday's expiration of the "NY Pause" order.
- He again pushed for more federal funding for state and local governments as Congress is expected to discuss possible additional stimulus funds.
Cuomo said there will be some regions eligible to reopen on May 15. However, the state's preliminary review of its checklist, as well as Erie County officials, have said that Western New York is unlikely to begin reopening this week.
The governor, on what he called Day 71 of the pandemic in the state, said that the state's new coronavirus deaths and hospitalizations continue to decline to levels last seen in late March.
The state's daily coronavirus death total Saturday fell to 207, which matches the amount of deaths on March 27. The number of new Covid-19 patients entering hospitals was down to 521, a level last seen on March 20.
"That takes us right back to where we started this hellish journey," said Cuomo, who also noted that the state's net hospitalizations and intubations also continue to descend. "March 20 is when we did the close-down order. Where we are today is basically right where we were when we started.
"It has been a painful time between March 20 and May 9. All of this work, all of this progress of turning that tide of reducing the rate of infection is all thanks to New Yorkers and what New Yorkers did."
Cuomo's new nursing home guidelines included that they must step up their testing of workers.
"All nursing home staff must be tested twice a week," the governor said. "That is not just a temperatures check, that is a diagnostic test. We have the tests available."
In addition, the governor said a new guideline has been established that hospitals cannot discharge a patient to a nursing home unless that patient tests negative for the virus.
"We're just not going to send a person who is positive to a nursing home after a hospital visit, period," he said.
The governor repeated that nursing homes unable to take care of a Covid-19 patient are required to notify the state.
"If they cannot provide the appropriate care, they have to call the Department of Health," Cuomo said, "and let's get that resident into an appropriate facility."
Cuomo said that the state has the hospital bed capacity to care for Covid-19 patients that some nursing homes may not be able to care for. He mentioned Covid-only facilities, including Catholic Health's St. Joseph's Campus in Buffalo.
"We created 40,000 additional beds, so we have beds available," he said. "It's not like a situation where we don't have options. We have options."
Cuomo said the state was continuing to investigate the deaths of three children that possibly stem from a coronavirus-related illness.
During the briefing, Cuomo's mother, Matilda, joined him via videoconference as he wished her a Happy Mother’s Day.
"The personification of love has always been my mother," he said. "Pure love, pure sweetness, pure affirmation. Unconditional love, whatever you did, however stupid I was, and I could be pretty stupid.
"Today, more than anything else, mothers are special. They are special every day, but how about going through this. You have mothers in nursing homes … mothers have been doing double-duty stuck at home. Mothers who have lost mothers, mothers who we have lost during this hellacious period where so many people have lost their parents. Today is Mother’s Day, first and foremost. Today is about love, and expressing it, and appreciation for our mothers.”