State Senate Democrats are poised to approve a package of nursing home accountability bills on Monday — taking matters into their own hands with Gov. Andrew Cuomo under fire for the coronavirus’ deadly toll on the facilities under his watch.
Expected to clear the upper chamber Monday, the 10 bills were introduced earlier this month with the goal of reforming nursing home protocols on matters including fatality reporting, patient-to-staff ratio and visitation standards.
“The tragic situation in our nursing homes remains a heartbreaking reminder of the toll this pandemic has taken and has made it clear that real reforms are needed,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
“The Senate Majority is taking action to deliver meaningful results by increasing transparency and raising the standard of care provided at these facilities,” continued the Yonkers Democrat. “I commend the bill sponsors for their work and I am proud that we are passing these reforms.”
Cuomo also put forth his own nursing home reform proposal on Friday, arguing the state’s laws are too lax and facility operators need to be held accountable through measures including stiffer penalties.
The wave of legislation follows a months-long struggle to obtain data from Cuomo’s Department of Health.
Top Democratic lawmakers — including Senators Gustavo Rivera (D-The Bronx), Rachel May (D-Syracuse) and James Skoufis (D-Orange) — sent a list of 16 questions to state health officials in August demanding answers on their tally of nursing-home resident deaths tied to COVID-19.
But the Cuomo administration responded only after six months — and the release of a damning report by state Attorney General Letitia James revealing that nursing homes undercounted resident fatalities by as much as 50 percent.
A state Supreme Court judge also ruled that New York had to release the data before the Cuomo administration finally caved.
The Post exclusively reported that Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa De Rosa, admitted to Democratic lawmakers during a closed-door meeting earlier this month that the state withheld information because they feared an investigation by the administration of now-former President Donald Trump.
Federal investigators are now probing the state’s handling of the virus in nursing homes.
State lawmakers argue that their legislation package trumps the governor’s preferred measures.
One bill sponsored by Rivera would mandate that the state DOH record all coronavirus fatalities of nursing-home residents in hospitals as “nursing home deaths.”
The Cuomo administration long insisted on not tallying such deaths for hospitals, obscuring the true toll of the pandemic in nursing homes.
May has two bills: One that would expand the Empire State’s ombudsman — or resident advocate — program in nursing homes, and another that would allow for residents’ relatives to enter facilities for “compassionate care” reasons.
Nursing home visitations have been heavily restricted since March 2020 under state pandemic regulations.
Another measure, put forth by Skoufis, would require facilities to post all violations of health protocols on their Web sites for public review.
The bills will still need to pass the state Assembly.
“Ensuring that nursing homes are safe is a priority,” said a spokesman for state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-The Bronx). “We will be discussing these and other issues with our members.”
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said that the governor and the state legislature want the same thing, and that the administration was open to considering other reforms.
“We all share the same goal of reforming these facilities and fixing the inequities laid bare by this pandemic, which is why the governor laid out a legislative package in the 30-day amendments and said he wouldn’t sign a budget without them,” he said. “To the extent there are other ideas we’re open to reviewing them.”
Additional reporting by Aaron Feis