By: Lieba Nesis
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has fallen from grace as he continually shifts blame, bullies those beneath and above him and acts in a unilaterally dangerous fashion. Hailed as an icon in the middle of March with the hashtag #PresidentCuomo trending due to his steady tone and direct leadership during his daily twenty-minute press briefings he seemed untouchable. Since then, he has taken one disastrous turn after another. The most deleterious of his actions was sending 6,300 recovering Covid patients to nursing homes during the height of the pandemic. Close to 11,000 of the 33,000 New York State deaths are directly attributable to his March 25th Health Department Directive which prohibited nursing homes from refusing Covid patients. It wasn’t until May 10th that this deadly edict was reversed after more than 6,400 nursing home patients died at health care facilities, with thousands of more nursing home deaths in hospitals-the number of which Cuomo refuses to release.
The Cuomo March 25th advisory states, “During this global health emergency, all Nursing Homes MUST comply with the expedited receipt of residents returning from hospitals to Nursing Homes. Residents are deemed appropriate for return… if the resident is medically stable for return.” This is a clear mandate not a suggestion. The document further demands, “no resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the Nursing Home solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19”. The most puzzling portion of the advisory admonishes, “Nursing Homes are PROHIBITED from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be TESTED FOR COVID-19 PRIOR TO ADMISSION OR READMISSION.”
Consequently, thousands of returning patients who were not permitted to be tested were not adequately isolated. Cuomo has argued that 20,000 infected home care workers, not released Covid patients, were to blame for the deaths without providing any proof or confirmation. The number of nursing home deaths peaked on April 8th two weeks after the mandate was issued. Nursing homes panicked that infected residents would contaminate the facility and were unable to place a number of symptomatic and asymptomatic patients in quarantine since Cuomo prohibited their testing-with many facilities lacking space and equipment to effectively isolate inhabitants.
On April 23rd Cuomo stated he was commencing an investigation into those nursing homes that didn’t follow state policies with punishment being a fine or losing one’s license. The self righteous Cuomo claimed he was trying to free up beds since expectations were that 110,000 hospital beds would be needed when only 53,000 were available. However, as of April 7th the Navy Hospital ship and Jacob Javits Center, which contained over 1200 beds for coronavirus patients, were available with only 110 combined beds being used. Dr. Michael Wasserman, head of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine said, “if you push folks out of the hospitals to make space and you push them into nursing homes a couple weeks later, for every one of those you send to the nursing home, you may get 20 back in the hospital.”
California, heeding the directives of its experts, overturned its instructions for nursing homes to be required to accept recovering Covid patients on March 30th-allowing for a more lenient policy based on whether nursing homes were able to follow CDC guidelines. Cuomo has stated numerous times that the virus spreads to the elderly like “fire through dry grass” while still forcing nursing homes to accept patients. Cuomo has defended his policy by citing a New York Times June study that ranked New York 46th in terms of deaths in the state amongst the elderly population; however a more recent July report by the New York Times stated New York ranked second, closely behind New Jersey, among states with the highest number of nursing home deaths nationwide.
Cuomo has never once apologized or admitted a modicum of guilt for his reprehensible directive. Moreover, nursing home workers had massive PPE shortages with Cuomo claiming that because they were private facilities it was not his job to provide equipment. In an interview with MSNBC’s, Chuck Todd, Cuomo warned against placing one’s parent in a nursing home saying, “you have a vulnerable person. Best to keep them at home and not put them in a congregate facility”-acknowledging that nursing homes were unsafe.
The Cuomo administration has defended itself by remarking that pre-pandemic nursing homes were required to admit only those patients for whom it could care; consequently, it was their responsibility to reject Covid patients they could not safely accommodate. This argument is specious since Cuomo forced them to change their normal practices. In fact on April 9th, the head of a Brooklyn nursing home asked state health officials if Covid patients could be transferred to the Navy hospital ship or Javits Center and was summarily refused. Another deceptive Cuomo declaration is that it was the president’s fault since Cuomo was following the orders of President Trump’s CDC guidance.
This is downright false as the CDC released guidance to nursing homes in early March declaring that the two key factors to consider when deciding whether to discharge a hospital patient to a nursing home was: First, whether the patient was medically ready to be released, and more importantly whether the long term care facility was able “to safely care for a patient recovering from the virus by implementing all recommended infection control procedures.” No sane person, including Cuomo, would conclude that nursing homes possessed the requisite safety protocols. The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Report looked at a nursing facility in Washington State a week before Cuomo’s advisory and declared, “it is critical that long-term care facilities implement active measures to prevent introduction of Covid-19”.
The US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) also released a March 13 document stating nursing homes should “only accept patients for which they can care” and encouraged Covid testing for all nursing home patients on April 2. Cuomo frequently points to CMS’s directive that nursing homes admit individuals from hospitals where Covid was present; however, they do not advocate admitting recovering Covid patients who have not been tested without adequate safety protocols and isolation procedures in effect.
In the past month Cuomo has gone on the offensive attacking the President in unimaginable ways in an effort to absolve himself of responsibility. On September 2nd he remarked if Trump ever comes to New York, “he can’t have enough bodyguards to walk through… Forget bodyguards, he better have an army if he thinks he’s going to walk down the streets in New York.” These are the most threatening comments ever uttered from a sitting Governor to a President. Cuomo also accused Trump of trying to kill New York and laughably said Trump had caused the New York coronavirus outbreak by not banning travel from Europe sooner.
This claim is brazenly inaccurate since Trump was one of the first to ban travel from Europe on March 16th. The CDC did not release its report until the beginning of May that much of the New York coronavirus came from Europe-making it impracticable for Trump to have known to close the borders before the Covid explosion in Europe occurred. A more likely explanation for the massive coronavirus eruption in New York was Cuomo’s waiting to close down businesses until the late date of March 22nd, the filthy public transportation system, Cuomo’s failure to stockpile critical ventilators and most importantly Cuomo’s dangerous obstinacy in forcing nursing homes to accept Covid patients until the late date of May 10th-when deaths had already climbed to unthinkable proportions.