The state’s reluctance to answer questions about the nursing home deaths caused by the coronavirus pandemic this summer continues to anger families of the deceased residents.
The bitterness over the state’s silence and the resentment produced by the seeming arrogance from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York health officials evolved Wednesday into outrage when dozens of advocates and loved ones shouted “Let us in” on the steps of the state Capitol, demanding state officials permit essential caregivers into New York nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thus, the governor, the state Health Department and nursing home administrators face a new challenge. How they meet this challenge will be a defining moment for the state’s leadership.
Carla Conley, of Utica, shared the story of her elderly mother, Rosie Abraham, who died Oct. 4. “My mother Rosie lost her battle due to isolation, failure to thrive and neglect,” Conley said. “My mother was starved to death. She was dehydrated.”
Conley last visited her mother in person March 6, and was prevented from seeing her mother because of the pandemic. State adult-care facilities were closed to visitors in mid-March to prevent additional spread.
New York nursing homes resumed limited visitations Sept. 15 for COVID-free facilities for at least 14 days — a revision to the previous 28-day guidelines set by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
That revision did not help Carol Conley and the hundreds or maybe thousands of loved ones who could only stand by as their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings died alone.
Enduring this grief is more than any New Yorker should have been forced to do. Yet the governor and health officials including state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, who did not answer questions or provided vague responses during a hearing Aug. 3 about how many coronavirus-positive nursing home patients were transferred to and died in New York hospitals, citing frequently changing numbers as the pandemic continued.
Cuomo, meanwhile, has repeatedly brushed away questions about state nursing home deaths, labeling repeated demands for an independent investigation a political ploy by Republicans attacking Democratic states.
Dodging and sidestepping are unacceptable in the face of 6,600 nursing home deaths from COVID in New York state. Honesty, transparency and empathy are needed to help the survivors find any kind of closure.