ALBANY, N.Y. (WETM) – The New York Senate Health Committee passed a bill that would would create a temporary, independent commission to investigate the 15,000 COVID-19 related nursing home deaths in the state.
The proposed bill comes over two years after the Cuomo administration placed COVID-positive patients into nursing homes — a decision that was not reversed until weeks later.
The investigation, which was gained the support of both Republicans and Democrats, would investigate the fact that the state undercounted the number of nursing home deaths. It would also look into an audit from the State’s Comptroller’s office that claimed the New York State Department of Public Health was unprepared to respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“These are real people, real families who lost their lives during this tragedy,” Republican Assemblymember Philip Palmesano said. “I think it’s definitely necessary given the fact that we lost 15,000 seniors during the COVID crisis. I believe families deserve answers, accountability and transparency.”
Local lawmakers, including Palmesano and Republican Senator Tom O’Mara, said the goal of the bill is to prevent future tragedies in nursing homes in the event of another public health emergency. Despite the goal, not everyone is on board with the investigation.
“I think it’s a waste of time,” Horseheads Elcor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center Administrator Harley Clark said. “This is a brand new disease, nobody knew anything about it. Everybody was going by the seat of their pants in the beginning of this.”
Clark acknowledged the COVID-19 outbreaks inside nursing homes, especially the one he worked at in Rochester, were devastating.
“By the end of December , I started losing residents. I ended up losing 21. It was it was God awful,” Clark said. “And in the evening, when you’d walk through and see them sitting up and eating their supper, [you’d] come in the next morning to find out that they’ve expired.”
Data from the Department of Public Health indicated that COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes was also a problem across the Southern Tier. Dozens in Steuben County alone died.
“It was a very big issue,” Palmesano said. “At the beginning, we had a number of deaths, especially [in] Hornell [and] Bath.”
The bill now moves to the Senate Finance Committee before heading to the State Senate for a vote.