Republican members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. John Katko, are urging New York Attorney General Letitia James to investigate a controversial state directive that prevented nursing homes from denying admission to residents who had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
The policy, which was issued by the state Department of Health on March 25, has been criticized because of the death toll in New York nursing homes. According to the department, more than 6,000 confirmed and presumed COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes. That total doesn't include nursing home residents who were transferred and died at hospitals.
The order from the department stated that residents shouldn't be denied admission or re-admission to a nursing home "solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19." The directive also prohibited nursing homes from requiring hospitalized residents who are "medically stable" to be tested for COVID-19 before they are admitted or re-admitted.
In their letter to James, Republican members of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis said the order "recklessly reintroduced the disease into the most vulnerable population" and urged the attorney general to include the policy in her investigation of nursing homes.
The members of Congress also asked James to review any policies or executive orders regarding hospital discharges to nursing homes, any state-issued guidance related to the practice and the state's data collection practices.
Near the conclusion of the letter, the members requested a "written commitment to investigate this deadly policy" by Thursday, July 2.
The letter was signed by U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican and the ranking member of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. It was also signed by New York's Republican congressional delegation, including Katko, U.S. Reps. Peter King, Tom Reed, Elise Stefanik and Lee Zeldin.
Katko, R-Camillus, said he's hoping James will expand the investigation to review the "devastating" nursing home directive.
"Despite explicit warnings from the CDC, the state issued inconsistent and shifting guidance on providing care for the most vulnerable in our communities at nursing homes statewide," Katko said. "This included a mandate that forced nursing homes to accept known COVID-19 positive patients and a policy that allowed facilities to admit patients without testing for the virus.
"With over 6,000 deaths in nursing homes across the state, the attorney general must review the impact of these policies and make the findings available to our communities and the families of loved ones lost."
The nursing home order is no longer in effect. It had been posted on the state Department of Health's website, but it was deleted in May.
Cuomo has claimed the criticism of the state's handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes is politically motivated. But there have been questions raised by members of both parties and industry groups.
In April, Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of New York State Health Facilities Association, said a "confluence of issues" led to COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. One of the issues he mentioned is the March 25 policy.
"That presented real concerns for us," Hanse said at the time.
Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.
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