Liza Berger

New York’s governor has been a bit of a whipping boy for the high number of COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities in the state.

The criticism and anger stemmed from the state’s policy in March — a poor one, nearly everyone can now agree — that required nursing homes in the state to accept hospital patients, regardless of their COVID-19 status. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) soon did an about-face on the policy and, in May, prohibited hospitals from discharging patients to nursing homes unless they tested negative for COVID-19.

But that was not before thousands of nursing home residents died of the virus. A total of 6,624 people have perished from COVID-19 in long-term care facilities in the state since the virus began. That amounts to about one-quarter of total deaths from the virus.

So what caused this nightmare scenario for long-term care? Many people believe it was the governor’s early policy. Others, including the governor, contend that it was actually the nursing home staff who brought it in and circulated it to the residents. A July report released by the state presented this case.

A new analysis by Kaiser Health News determines that it likely was a bit of both. Cuomo’s policy certainly may have contributed to the death rate, but it was not the sole factor. For one, the governor’s policy was not a direct order; nursing homes could have refused based on the grounds they could not safely care for these patients, the article states. Also, infection control problems in facilities may have exacerbated the situation. And, based on what is happening in so-called hot spots around the country, in which an increase in cases in the surrounding community is causing an uptick in COVID-19 cases in nursing homes, community spread certainly was another factor.

We can’t forget: New York was once the epicenter of this virus. The state and New York City, in particular, were dealing with soaring infection rates in March, and it was not clear that the state could get the virus under control.

But it has. The state has been boasting several straight days of positivity rates below 1%. That is good news. Does it make up for what happened in nursing homes? Absolutely not. But it seems to me it is time to make peace with the governor’s actions in New York. And to use what happened, as heartbreaking and devastating as it was, as lessons learned as we move forward.

Liza Berger is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. Follow her @LizaBerger19.