Cuomo’s coverup over — as NY has failed to crack down on awful nursing homes

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State Attorney General Letitia James’ report on New York’s nursing-home horror proves Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been covering up the truth. The death toll is at least 50 percent higher than Team Cuomo admitted.

Worse is Cuomo’s years of indifference to the dangerous conditions in many of the state’s nursing homes. The value of James’ report is in calling attention to these conditions, particularly the absence of rigorous ­infection control, setting the stage for the COVID-19 devastation.

Unfortunately, James offered only flimsy proposals. After the state has coped with the pandemic, it has another important job to do: shuttering the worst of these nursing facilities and ensuring the elderly in our state live in decent conditions.

James’ report is making headlines because she examined a question the governor wanted to hide. On March 25, Cuomo’s Department of Health ordered nursing homes to accept COVID-positive patients being discharged from hospitals and barred the nursing facilities from requiring any tests for admission. Facilities had to fly blind.

The virus raced through these homes, killing thousands. To minimize the political fallout, Cuomo’s health commissioner, Howard Zucker, began fudging the statistics. Until April, New York had reported all nursing home residents who died from COVID-19, whether they died at the home or after being sent to the hospital. That’s standard. But as the toll soared, the state quietly shifted to reporting only deaths at the homes. That told only half the truth. Using sample data and statistical analysis, the James report suggests that the death count might be double Team Cuomo’s estimate.

James’ report puts an end to Cuomo’s months of dodging inquiries on how many nursing-home residents died in the Empire State. But the report should be just the beginning of a statewide push to shut nursing homes that offer deplorable, even deadly care. James’ report found that as the pandemic began, some nursing homes were ­already cauldrons of infection.

They failed to isolate patients with contagious bugs or train staff members in routine infection-control principles. Nursing homes that couldn’t stop staph and other ­superbugs from spreading patient to patient were helpless before the novel coronavirus.

Of the 621 nursing homes in the state, 107 earn only a one-star rating from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. That means the worst care. James’ report confirms what CMS has found nationwide, that nursing homes with lower ratings and lower staff-to-resident ratios have worse infection rates. And predictably, during the pandemic, their residents also have had the highest COVID-19 death rates.

This isn’t just a coronavirus problem. Long before COVID-19, the residents of low-rated facilities languished in dirty diapers, succumbed to bed sores, suffered dehydration because no one helped them eat and contracted staph and other infections owing to ­inadequate ­controls.

The outrage is that Cuomo and his Department of Health have tolerated doing business with these one-star nursing homes for a decade. New York pays among the highest Medicaid rates in the nation, and most nursing-home residents are on Medicaid. So New York taxpayers are shelling out top dollar for rock-bottom care.

The condition of nursing homes is a ­nationwide scandal, not limited to New York state.

But James’ report should be a catalyst for action in New York. Unfortunately, it offers only thin recommendations, such as increasing the number of employees in the state Department of Health. That’s laughable. The real culprit here is not too few government employees. It’s callous indifference to the vulnerable, while the state’s political class ­responds to hefty contributions from the health-care industry.

It’s no surprise that last spring, state pols offered limited immunity to health-care ­operators during the pandemic. The Greater New York Hospital Association, an industry group that donates lavishly to state pols, helped shape the legislation. James recommends getting rid of immunity. But that isn’t the answer, either. Damage awards for injury to the elderly are usually minuscule, and few families have the means to even bring a claim.

The state’s job is to ensure that nursing homes meet safe standards. James’ report shows that the Cuomo administration failed miserably. The tragic result is that too many frail elderly live out their last days in squalid, dangerous conditions.

Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York.

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