New York Easing Nursing Home Covid Requirements, Though Concerns Remain

New York nursing homes have asked state officials to relax a mandate that they test their employees for coronavirus twice a week, according to local news reports.

Nursing home umbrella organizations sent New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker a letter this week arguing that the mandate “creates financial and practical burdens that make it harder to provide quality care to residents,” and requested that the testing requirement be reduced to one test per week. A spokesperson for the Department of Health said that it is reviewing the letter, as well as testing data and advice from “other stakeholders.”

Of the 46 new Covid-19 deaths reported by the state on Tuesday, 16 occurred in nursing homes. On Wednesday, Zucker said he recommended the reduction of testing mandates to once-a-week in regions that have reached phase two of reopening. He said in a statement, “Over the last three weeks, the weekly positive testing rate has declined from 3%, to less than 1% for the most recent week for which we have test results… For facilities in regions that have entered Phase 2, just 0.76% of test results this past week have come back positive, mirroring the tremendous progress New Yorkers have made to control COVID-19 spread… Based on the testing results to date, I have recommended to Governor Cuomo that moving forward, New York State follow CDC guidance in requiring nursing home staff to be tested once a week, and implement this for regions that have met the criteria to enter Phase 2 of New York’s reopening, and continue twice weekly testing in facilities that are still located in Phase 1 regions.”

Meanwhile, an opinion column in the New York Post argues that Governor Andrew Cuomo “is still failing New York nursing homes.”

The author, a nursing home medical director, said that while her facility recently released its last known Covid-19 patient from quarantine, it isn’t celebrating the milestone. “The state Department of Health soon arrived to conduct testing of all of our residents,” she wrote. “Now, almost a week later, we are still waiting for the test results — another stunning ­example of the state’s ongoing ­neglect of nursing homes.”

The column argues that Cuomo has never complemented state data on declining infection, death, and hospitalization rates with comparable data for infection rates in nursing homes, “even though the DOH has collected these statistics since the beginning of the pandemic.” The author asks why the state is rushing to test nursing home populations if infection rates are declining alongside the rest of the state, and why the state is delaying the reporting of the results of these tests.

While the official nursing home Covid-19 death toll is 6,000, the author writes, “the real number is likely much higher,” because many nursing home residents died in the early weeks of the pandemic, before they were tested. If the deaths of nursing home residents and employees are to not be in vain, she argues, New York health authorities “must collaboratively engage representatives of the nursing-home industry in planning for tomorrow’s outbreaks.” She calls for the sharing and analysis of Covid-19 nursing home infection and death data, and the “development, resourcing and implementation of both surveillance and response-driven testing of residents and staff.” To conduct testing without these other practices in place, she says, will only add to the state’s existing failures to deal with the crisis.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC work diligently to protect the rights of nursing home residents.  Please contact us to discuss in the event you have a potential case involving neglect or abuse.

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