As the COVID-19 crisis deepens at nursing homes, Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart is asking the county to explore doing the following:
- Disclose the number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities among residents and staff at all nursing home facilities
- Create a testing program for all residents and staff at nursing homes
- Encourage nursing home staff to report staffing and PPE shortages to a dedicated hotline
During a time when family members cannot visit nursing homes, Monroe County must play an even stronger role in looking out for resident interests.
The scope of COVID-19 infections is a key performance measure. While facilities with a history of high ratings have been hit hard by the virus, facilities with poor ratings have fared worse. It’s appropriate to work with the nursing homes to improve infection control, but it’s also appropriate to subject them to public scrutiny. That’s why the county should publicly disclose the number of infections among patients at staff at each facility.
“I applaud the leadership of Governor Cuomo, County Executive Bello and Commissioner Mendoza during this unprecedented crisis. I believe they have saved lives,” said Barnhart. “But I do think we have to disclose more information about long term care facilities. Nursing homes should not be allowed to operate in secret, especially during a pandemic. We need to understand the full scope of the problem to prevent the nightmare scenarios we have seen in facilities elsewhere in the state and country.”
Contrary to public interest, New York State has significantly limited what it is publicly reporting about nursing home cases and fatalities. Monroe County may be able to fill in the gap. Under New York State Department of Health guidelines, nursing homes must report cases of communicable diseases, including COVID-19, to local and state health departments. News reports indicate these facilities are not complying with this directive, and there is confusion about how to count positive cases, particularly in the absence of testing.
We already require nursing homes to publicly disclose a multitude of information about their operations and subject them to detailed inspection reports – all of which can be found at Medicare.gov – because they serve vulnerable populations.
Privacy is not a legitimate concern to withhold numerical data. Names and ages of residents and staff would not be released. Other states are releasing this information already. There is no regulation prohibiting Monroe County from following suit.
Monroe County taxpayers spend $182 million on Medicaid. Many of those dollars help to fund nursing home operations. While it’s clear COVID-19 is difficult to contain in nursing homes, the public deserves to know the full scope of the problem.
Monroe County should release whatever site-specific data it has in its possession. If the county does not have the data, it should require the information, per state guidelines.
COVID-19 is highly contagious and many carriers don’t show symptoms. As we have seen, this puts nursing home residents and staff in a dangerous position.
Scientists have said all along that testing is a big piece of controlling this virus. The dire situation we are in makes it imperative that testing at nursing home facilities begin as soon as possible.
There is a national shortage of testing supplies and capacity. As testing capabilities increase, however, we must have a plan to increase testing of residents and staff. This will identify asymptomatic carriers and provide a full picture of what is happening. The newly created Monroe County task force to assist nursing homes during this crisis should come up with a transparent testing plan. Testing result data must be disclosed to the public.
“Scientists have said all along that testing is a big piece of controlling this virus. The dire situation we are in makes it imperative that testing at nursing home facilities begins as soon as possible,” Barnhart said.
There are reports across the country of nursing home workers who are working without the proper personal protective equipment. Another issue is staff members are becoming sick or refusing to work, creating shortages.
The county should consider setting up a hotline for nursing home workers to report dangerous conditions. These violations can be reported to appropriate local, state and federal authorities, as well as the Monroe County task force on nursing homes.
“Families are not able to visit and serve as watchdogs. Employees know when something is wrong and must have a way to report information without fearing retaliation,” said Barnhart.
Barnhart has sent a letter to the administration. She is submitting a memorializing resolution to the legislature calling on the state to adopt some of these same measures.