While Gov. Andrew Coumo is content with his track record and efforts to contain the Novel Coronavirus or COVID-19 in nursing homes across New York State, lawmakers are not sold on those policies. This includes Sen. Minority Leader Robert Ortt (R-62), who spoke with FingerLakes1.com on The Daily Debrief.
He aired concerns and discussed unanswered questions, which remained more than six months into the pandemic. One major problem, Ortt says, is that even before the pandemic, conditions had been deteriorating at nursing homes around New York.
“There were other issues that surrounded nursing homes in New York, predating COVID-19,” Ortt told FingerLakes1.com.
“COVID-19 like so many other things, has exposed problems with our nursing homes, in some cases, not created them,” he further elaborated.
As a result, Republicans like Ortt backed legislation in the State Assembly and Senate in 2018 and onward to no avail.
In 2018, Senate Bills 1112 and 1113 were introduced and sponsored by Ortt but both were also recently voted down among legislators in the Health Committee.
These two bills sought to institute structure changes to the long-term care industry at large.
Senate Bill 1112 would have imposed a moratorium on any purchasing of additional nursing home facilities for twenty-four months for current owners who managed locations with preexisting deficiencies and violations.
Senate Bill 1113, titled the “Unpredictable Nursing Home Inspection Act,” would have required the state’s Department of Health to conduct 40-percent of all inspections at nursing homes outside normal business hours, without any prior notice, and even an annual spring inspection report.
Cognizant and culpable of its own actions, Ortt sought to hold the Department of Health accountable with Senate Bill 1113.
But now with the pandemic plaguing the state, he firmly believes that the Department of Health had been well-aware of the fact that some nursing homes could not simply care for its current role of residents – let alone an influx of COVID-19 positive patients following March 25th and the governor’s executive order.
“Let’s be honest, DOH did know. That’s the whole point. You said DOH may not be aware, I would say bull, they do know. They’re the ones doing the inspections,” Ortt said.
In his own opinion, he does not consider the recent report on COVID-19 in nursing homes from New York State Commissioner of Health Howard Zucker as real oversight, calling for his colleagues to initiate independent bipartisan commissions and more transparent investigations into state-regulated nursing homes.
“I don’t believe anyone thinks that Commissioner Zucker, who works for the governor is an independent oversight or can provide independent oversight of that executive order,” Ortt explained.
Instead it seems that Zucker’s current role is to only “provide cover” and “deflection in obfuscation” for Cuomo, according to Ortt.
In the absence of any accountability, Ortt sees in his district and elsewhere that New York residents are frustrated with the lack of transparency when it comes to combatting COVID-19 inside nursing homes where many residents are immune compromised and highly susceptible to contracting the deadly virus.
In the end, residents are only seeking to find answers for the sake of their loved ones, those who live inside them – and with each passing day, New Yorkers are still suffering from impalpable pressures and pains, without any acknowledgement of the statewide problem from legislative leaders on both sides of the political aisle.
“I think it’s very insulting, and should be insulting to all New Yorkers,” Ortt mentioned.
From a partisan perspective, Governor Cuomo has continually defended his position on the March 25th executive order and not compromised yet.
State Democrats in the Senate and Assembly are also complicit with Cuomo in Ortt’s eyes, both with their silence and inaction – especially those who turned down the pieces of legislation that he explicitly sponsored in Senate.
“So, for those who say, well, they care about this and they want to fix it. It doesn’t look like it to me, at this point,” he added.
Admitting to the fact that addressing the vast impacts of COVID-19 are far from over and shall span into the foreseeable future, bringing oversight is essential – not only as an important political exercise, but also as an essential task for the state to become more self-aware of its own shortcomings in preparation for future outbreaks of the communicable illness.
“This isn’t just a political exercise to say, ‘Well, this person screwed up.’ This is about understanding where we got it wrong, making sure that families in New Yorkers know and staffers and people that own nursing home facilities, and to make sure that we have the right policy going forward. And so, we have to know what we did, what worked, what didn’t work, and how we fixed that going forward,” Ortt mentioned.
Although lacking accountability has been already apparent, new actions have been stirring at the state level.
In the coming weeks, two public hearings are set on the subject in early August on Mondays, August 3rd and 10th – a week apart from each other.
Previously, Senator Pam Helming [R-54] announced her public support in co-sponsoring legislation to bring forth an independent bipartisan commission to investigate COVID-19 related deaths that occurred inside state-regulated nursing homes.
Recently, the state’s Department of Health and Office of Aging offices jointly announced a five-point plan to assist long-term care residents and their families, including $1 million to fund the purchasing of communication technology, all in an effort to promote the services of the state’s Long Term Care Ombudsman Program.