New York’s nursing home horrors are even worse than you think
Patricia Castillo remembers when the Newfane Rehab and Health Care Center, where her mother lived, notified her that a patient had just been admitted from a nearby Niagara County hospital with COVID-19.
Jill Sawyer, whose father lived at the same nursing home, remembers getting notified, too. “It was just a death sentence,” said Sawyer. The virus raced through Newfane, killing Castillo’s mother and Sawyer’s father and 24 other residents.
“My father was only 70 years old,” Sawyer sighs, and he was still “shuffling around and calling me 20 times a day.” Now, she says the phone doesn’t ring and she misses that.
COVID-19 has killed at least 11,000 to 12,000 nursing-home and assisted-living residents in New York, nearly double what the state admits to. And as the deaths mount, so have the lies and cover-ups.
The carnage started in March, when hospitals inundated with COVID-19 patients insisted on clearing out elderly patients, even if they were still infected, and sending them to whatever nursing homes had empty beds. To swing that, they had to get rid of a safety regulation requiring patients to test negative twice for COVID-19 before being placed in a home. The state Health Department willingly complied.
On March 25, Gov. Cuomo’s Health Department mandated that nursing homes had to accept COVID patients and barred requiring any COVID tests for admission. Facilities like Newfane had to fly blind, not knowing which incoming patients had it.
The American Health Care Association called it a “recipe for disaster.” The Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths urged Cuomo to change course.
Instead, New York’s health commissioner, Howard Zucker, began fudging the death statistics, which concealed the consequences: Until late April, New York had reported all nursing-home residents who died from COVID-19, whether they died at the home or after being hospitalized. That’s standard. But as the toll soared, the state quietly shifted to reporting only deaths at the homes. That reduced the number to 6,062 — terrible but only half the truth.
The reality is, at least another 17,000 elder-care patients with COVID-19 were sent to hospitals, and an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 of them have died, with death rates highest for those on ventilators, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association’s mortality rates.
Bottom line: 11,000 to 12,000 nursing-home and assisted-living residents have died from COVID-19, half of all the virus deaths statewide.
The health-care think tank American Commitment also pegs the deaths at 12,000.
That awful death toll didn’t have to happen. It’s six times the number of nursing-home fatalities as in Florida or California, both more populous states.
Cuomo also tried to shift the blame to President Trump, pointing to a Trump administration statement issued on March 13. But the Cuomo administration is twisting it. The statement recommended nursing homes admit patients even if they were coming from a hospital battling COVID-19, not that patients with COVID-19 themselves had to be admitted.
In fact, on March 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautioned against allowing COVID-19 to invade a nursing home, warning that “it has the potential to result in high attack rates among residents, staff members and visitors.”
Cuomo’s “attempt to deflect blame onto the president sickens me,” says Castillo.
No wonder Cuomo’s Health Department does the industry’s bidding.
Castillo is pained that her mother had to die alone, “isolated from those who loved her.” She hopes someone will “hold the governor’s feet to the fire.”
At the least, New Yorkers should demand a health department that protects the vulnerable instead of catering to political donors.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York, the chairwoman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths and author of the forthcoming book “The Next Pandemic.”