New York state lawmakers will hold a second round of questioning Monday over how New York state oversaw nursing homes at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
The hearing, scheduled for 10 a.m. and to be held via video conference, comes a week after lawmakers grilled Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker for several hours over the issue.
Monday’s hearing will focus on upstate nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
Lawmakers last week were hearing testimony to “examine the impact of COVID-19 on residential health care facilities and other long-term care settings, and will hear recommendations for improving systems, protocols and practices to reduce transmission and mortality rates of contagious diseases and improve the outcomes and experiences of patients, families, caregivers and providers. “
Here are four things to watch for.
1. Will lawmakers get their main question answered?
Last week, lawmakers were frustrated by Zucker not being able to provide a precise death toll for the number of nursing home residents who have died. The official count stands at more than 6,300 residents, but the number could be far higher given some patients died while hospitalized.
The state does have data on the number of residents who were transferred to hospitals, but had recovered. Lawmakers are likely to continue to press state health officials for this data.
2. Was upstate New York different?
Upstate nursing homes and long-term care facilities appeared to be no different during the pandemic than New York City-based facilities during the worst of the pandemic earlier this year.
But in some upstate New York counties, COVID-19 cases and deaths were predominantly found in nursing homes or long-term care facilities. This is in part likely due to the pandemic having been far worse in New York City in March and April. But did upstate facilities have enough support during this time? Like in New York City, state health officials were concerned with hospitals being quickly overrun by the virus, and sought to make room in hospitals as quickly as possible. This led in part to the policy of requiring nursing homes to take COVID-positive patients. Hospitals are now barred from accepting discharged patients who are positive for the virus.
3. How is the visitation policy working?
There has now been more time since New York began allowing visitors at nursing homes and long-term care facilities. The visitations are being conducted under strict guidelines: The facilities cannot have had a new COVID case in 28 days. While meant to curtail the spread of the virus among a vulnerable population, some advocates and family members have complained the rules barely allow any nursing homes from having visitors.
But now, nearly a month into that policy taking effect, it’s possible some facilities are eligible for visitors clad in personal protective equipment again. The lack of visitors has concerned some nursing home advocates. Visitors provide an extra set of eyes and ears for the health and well-being of a loved one and social benefits a visitor like a family member can provide are obvious.
Still, it remains to be seen how many nursing homes are now eligible to accept visitors even on this limited basis.
4. Are nursing homes prepared for the next pandemic?
This remains an evergreen question for lawmakers and health care policymakers.
State officials knew in March, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo was publicly saying so, that residential care facilities like nursing homes were uniquely vulnerable to the virus. And yet more than 6,300 died during the pandemic — about 20 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in New York.
The Legislature had previously approved a bill requiring nursing homes to develop their own pandemic plans, including stockpiling personal protective equipment for staff, and have them publicly available to family members.
The nursing home issue has been politicized, with Cuomo accusing Republicans and conservative media of stoking the issue for their own partisan gain. But the planning for another wave of the virus or the next pandemic — be it next year or 100 years from now — remains something nursing homes are taking stock of now.