With 5,000+ COVID-19 Deaths in NYS Nursing Homes, Rep. Katko Leads NY GOP in Calling for Investigation into Proper Safety & Health Guidance

May 14, 2020
Press Release

Reps. Katko, Zeldin, King, Stefanik, Reed: These Tragic Statistics are Unacceptable. Older Americans Deserve Safe, Reliable Housing and Care

SYRACUSE, NY— U.S. Rep. John Katko (NY-24) today led Republicans from New York’s Congressional Delegation in urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to investigate New York State’s adherence to appropriate safety and health guidance within nursing homes and long-term care facilities. This request comes after New York State reported upwards of 5,000 COVID-19 related deaths in nursing homes across the state. Rep. Katko was joined byU.S. Reps. Lee Zeldin (NY-1), Pete King (NY-2), Elise M. Stefanik (NY-21),and Tom Reed (NY-23) in making this request. 

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York State has issued uncertain and shifting policy guidance on providing care for some of the most vulnerable in our communities at nursing homes statewide. This included encouraging facilities to accept patients who have been previously diagnosed with COVID-19, and at one point, allowing asymptomatic COVID-19 caregivers to attend to residents. Additionally, without sufficient state-provided personal protective equipment (PPE), healthcare workers have been at a significantly higher risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. Together, these policies have created a dangerous environment for nursing home residents and made it nearly impossible to prevent the spread of COVID-19. To address these concerns, the legislators today asked HHS and CMS to examine and provide oversight of New York State’s COVID-19 guidance for nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

In a letter to Secretary Azar and Administrator Verma, the lawmakers wrote, “In New York, the state has estimated at least 5,000 COVID-19 related fatalities in these facilities.  However, due to unclear and shifting policy guidance at the state level, this number is dramatically higher than reports originally indicated. These tragic statistics are unacceptable. Older Americans deserve safe, reliable housing and care.”  They continued, “In order to address these concerns, we ask that you examine the efficacy of New York State’s COVID-19 guidance for long-term care facilities as well as provide information on HHS and CMS oversight of long-term care facilities, including nursing homes during the current pandemic.”

The full text of the request can be found below:

Dear Secretary Azar and Administrator Verma:

The current pandemic has put immense strain on nursing homes and long-term care facilities, which serve the most vulnerable in our communities.  In New York, the state has estimated at least 5,000 COVID-19 related fatalities in these facilities.  However, due to unclear and shifting policy guidance at the state level, this number is dramatically higher than reports originally indicated.

These tragic statistics are unacceptable.  Older Americans deserve safe, reliable housing and care.  We urge your agency to investigate New York State’s adherence to appropriate safety and health guidance within nursing homes and long-term care facilities as well as any other factors contributing to the COVID-19 fatality rates in these facilities.

We appreciate the guidance CMS has issued to nursing homes to minimize risk of transmission of the virus.  However, we are deeply concerned with the current situation in New York State.  New York State has encouraged long-term care facilities to accept patients who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 upon their release from the hospital, and, for a time, enacted a policy which allowed asymptomatic COVID-19 positive caregivers to provide care for infected patients.  Furthermore, long-term care facilities are overwhelmed with patients and under-staffed, cases are rising on a daily basis, and the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) puts health care workers at a significantly higher risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. These policies have created a dangerous environment where residents of long-term care facilities are at even greater risk and health care workers face a near impossible task of preventing the spread of the virus from new COVID-19 positive patients. 

In order to address these concerns, we ask that you examine the efficacy of New York State’s COVID-19 guidance for long-term care facilities as well as provide information on HHS and CMS oversight of long-term care facilities, including nursing homes during the current pandemic. 

Given the urgent nature of this issue and the rising death toll, we await your prompt response.  We appreciate your attention to this matter.

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