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Amid COVID-19 Stories, NYS Lawmakers Back Bill To Provide Oversight At Nursing Homes

Courtesy of the Office of Assemblyman Ron Kim

New York state lawmakers are pushing legislation to better protect nursing home residents. They say they’re hearing reports of residents not receiving proper care during the COVID-19 pandemic and poor communication with family members.

Queens resident Livia Machin wants state lawmakers to take action so that what happened to her family doesn’t happen to others. Her father was in a nursing home for three years, and she and her family saw him weekly until a March state order prevented visitation to nursing homes to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. So she took to video visits, the last time being April 8, and had been trying to reach workers at the home since.

“April 8 was a Wednesday. I tried to reach them on Thursday. I tried to reach them on Friday.  I wouldn’t get no [sic] answers. The same thing started again; they wouldn’t return my calls. And so finally I reached somebody after like 10 tries on Saturday to tell me that my father was in a deathbed, that I was going to lose him. He was on oxygen. His blood pressure went down, and they told me just to prepare myself,” Machin says.  “I was in shock. I couldn’t understand why they did that to me. I was like bewildered. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t call me, why they didn’t reach out to me to tell me my father was sick, that he wasn’t able to breathe on his own. They waited for me to reach out to them.”

She says it was not clear whether he’d contracted COVID-19 as he wasn’t tested. Machin reached out to her Assemblyman, Ron Kim.

“I ended up actually losing one of my uncles at a nursing home. His name was Song Kim, and he had dementia for seven years. My father just saw him a month ago,” Kim says. “And while I still busy helping others, I had no idea that my uncle was sick in a nursing home, and he didn’t get the proper treatment. And we’re still waiting, his body is kept at a place in New Jersey, we’re still waiting for answers.”

The Flushing Democrat is sponsoring legislation to prevent more stories like these.

“We’re putting this legislation forward because we need to save lives right now,” Kim says.

The bill aims to provide a framework in which the state Department of Health would provide better oversight and accountability of nursing home and health care facility administrators, and provide the means by which DOH could intervene to ensure residents receive proper care.

“The DOH must issue guidelines to all residential health-care facilities on proper medical procedures, which include, but are not limited to, maintenance and recordkeeping of daily personal protective equipment (PPE usage), frequent communications with the residents and their loved ones of any confirmed or suspected infections within the facility; informing residents of alternative care options, including home care pursuant to Article 36 of the Public Health Law; and ensuring at least three daily communications between the resident and their relative,” says Kim.

Kim says the Cuomo administration has been responsive but more is needed. A state DOH spokesman says the Department will review the legislation adding, "We've said from the start that protecting our most vulnerable populations including people in nursing homes is our top priority and that's why the State acted quickly and aggressively to issue guidance specifically for these facilities on testing, infection control, environmental cleaning, staffing, visitation, admission, readmission, and outreach to residents and families.” He says the Department will continue to work with administrators of private and county nursing homes to do everything possible to protect the health, well-being and privacy of the residents who call these facilities home. 

New York State Director of AARP Beth Finkel supports the bill and shared a story from Tuesday.

“I got a call from one of our volunteers, and she let us know that she had an aunt, she’s in Brooklyn; the aunt is in Manhattan, they were trying to get a hold of the nursing home for the last three weeks, and they could not get a return phone call from anyone in the nursing home,” Finkel says. “So they turned to us and we tried to help them make a contact, and, ultimately, they did get through, and here’s what they found out: This woman’s aunt died on April 9.”

She says they found out April 28. Democratic Hudson Valley Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson says he will co-sponsor the bill.

“What has made it worse this year was the March 25 directive from the Department of Health, which forced nursing homes to take infected patients,” Jacobson says. “Nursing homes are not hospitals. They should never have issued this order.”

Democrat Andrew Gounardes of Brooklyn sponsors the bill in the Senate. Democratic state Senator Rachel May of Syracuse is chair of the Committee on Aging. She says it’s important to safeguard both residents and frontline workers in the homes.

“So the toll this pandemic is taking on those living in nursing homes is both horrific and heartbreaking,” says May. “The governor himself has called them ‘Ground Zero’ for the coronavirus, and it’s just spreading through nursing homes like wildfire.”

She will co-sponsor the bill.

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