Nursing home inquiry could lead to better policy, procedures

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New York State officials are decrying efforts by the U.S. Justice Department to expanded an inquiry that could determine whether New York is under counting coronavirus deaths among nursing home residents.

As part of the inquiry, federal officials are demanding detailed data from hundreds of private facilities. The state’s official tally is 6,722 dead at long-term care facilities — a figure that is disputed by families and many nursing home advocates.

The state has reported a nation-topping 33,400 deaths as well as a controversial state order on March 25 that sent thousands of recovering COVID-19 patients from hospitals into nursing homes at the height of the pandemic.

State officials say their order was in accord with federal guidelines at the time as well as but federal and private projections that hospitals would be vastly over capacity with acutely sick COVID-19 patients with no place or specialized equipment to care for them.

Also, unlike most states, New York counts only nursing home patients who died on nursing home property among its figures - instead counting those who died at hospitals among the overall tally but not in the nursing home population.

Advocates and several state lawmakers are welcoming the Justice Department inquiry, while state officials say the move is purely political.

Whether or not the state figure is accurate or a gross misrepresentation or somewhere in between is not our decision to make — however, what is, and should be, the decision of all those whose loved ones have or will reside in a state-regulated nursing home is to have accurate information in order to make sound public policy.

The 6,722 individuals — or more — were mothers and sisters, husbands and fathers, aunts and uncles whose families expected and deserved them to be cared for earnestly.

We have a right to expect, and demand, that officials continually review their policies and decisions in order to develop better policies and procedures, in this instance, to better care for those who are among our must vulnerable now and in the future.

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