LANCASTER, N.Y. — In recent weeks, and we’ve heard it before, Governor Andrew Cuomo repeated the grim truth about the coronavirus.
“This happens to be a virus that happens to attack elderly people,” said the Governor.
Data from the New York State Health Department backs up Cuomo’s statement.
As of Tuesday, the deaths of 197 people in Western New York were COVID-19 related. Of those, 79 were nursing home residents. That’s 40% of the region's coronavirus fatalities.
“It’s not good in any nursing home,” says Assembly Member Sean Ryan of Buffalo, “Some are really understaffed and not performing well before COVID hit. So, we don’t know what’s going on in those nursing homes.”
Thursday, Governor Cuomo announced an investigation of the 600-plus nursing homes across New York.
“They get paid to provide a service. They get regulated by the state government. There are certain rules and regulations that they must follow and we put in additional rules and regulations on nursing homes in the midst of this crisis,” said Cuomo.
One of those emergency rules has arguably made operating a nursing home harder during a very difficult time. A March 25th health department directive states nursing homes cannot deny “readmission or admission sole based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19”.
The purpose of the rule is to expand hospital capacity for the expected crush of seriously ill coronavirus patients needing acute care. Recovering hospital patients would need to be moved out of hospital beds and placed somewhere.
Nursing homes become that place.
The order made Catholic Health Systems very concerned. The healthcare provider operates both hospitals and nursing homes. It converted St. Joseph’s Hospital into a COVID-only facility. But the healthcare provider knew it would only be a matter of time before it was faced with sending a patient and the virus into a nursing home filled with seniors who are most vulnerable to COVID-19.
It was at that point Executive Vice President Joyce Markiewicz picked-up the phone, “I made a call over to The McGuire Group and asked if we could find a location and we could stand-up a separate facility, would you be willing to do that with us?”
The McGuire Group agreed and within weeks the closed Absolute Care facility in Orchard Park was re-opened as a post-acute center for recovering COVID patients. But The McGuire Group and Catholic Health are uniquely capable of pulling such a feat off. They have what few nursing home operators have; cash, staff and resources.
Markiewicz says, “Think about a Mom ‘n Pop or a small nursing home that doesn’t have a line of credit, that has difficulty in making payroll at times. Then, you add this additional expense on to it of all of the equipment and these other needs. It’s not an easy thing for them to do.”
Governor Cuomo said repeatedly on Thursday that if a nursing home cannot provide the required care for any patient, the nursing home could decline admission. But in the case of a COVID patient, it would mean moving that person to another nursing home, transferring the issue of an infected person entering a facility with a vulnerable population.
Ryan would like to state government develop a rapid response team that would go into nursing homes to battle COVID spread. If that issue in not addressed, he predicts COVID cases and deaths will continue to skyrocket in nursing homes.