On July 6 the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) released a report entitled Factors Associated with Nursing Home Infections and Fatalities in New York State During the COVID-19 Global Health Crisis.
This report’s primary conclusion is that “…nursing home workers transmitted the virus unknowingly—through no fault of their own—while working, which then led to resident infections.” This statement does not reflect the experiences of frontline nurses of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) who throughout were pointing at critical shortages of personal protective equipment and calling for widespread testing in order to guide New York’s response to the virus since the onset of this pandemic.
Early on, NYSNA called upon the federal government to invoke its powers under the Defense Production Act to procure or produce critical supplies and equipment necessary to blunt the spread of the coronavirus. NYSNA was also warning elected leaders and public health officials of the dangers associated with relaxing the state’s quarantine and isolation standards for healthcare workers, as well as how chronic short-staffing of nurses and other healthcare workers would exacerbate COVID-19’s deadly impact. We criticized the Centers for Disease Control in March when they rolled back PPE and quarantine guidelines, and in April NYSNA sued the NYSDOH over the very real public health risks their quarantine and isolation standards created.
Assessing the readiness of our hospitals and nursing homes for a resurgence of COVID-19, however, remains elusive, given the lack of transparency or publicly available data from the state’s healthcare institutions. This week NYSNA brought charges against several major hospital systems for their failures to share data on the COVID-19 related illnesses and absences from work of our nurses. And we encourage the NYSDOH to release the critical data they have collected through the Hospital Emergency Response Data System, as well as their study of hospital and nursing home staffing standards across the state, which was due to be released in December 2019. Equally urgent is an examination of the impact cutting $2.5 billion from the state’s Medicaid budget will have on public health during this pandemic.
New Yorkers deserve a full accounting of what happened over the past four months, and the NYSDOH nursing home report, unfortunately, does not move us forward. The need is plain for a comprehensive, independent review of nursing home practices, the role of for-profit operators, and NYSDOH oversight.
If we want to ensure this never happens again, hospitals and government at all levels must be transparent with the public, and frontline healthcare professionals must be involved in decision-making. NYSNA stands ready to work with the NYSDOH, as well as the state’s hospitals and nursing homes, to protect New Yorkers from a resurgence of COVID-19.
“In January, as we witnessed the deadly progression of COVID-19 around the world, nurses sounded the alarm to New York’s public health officials and elected leaders. Nurses have been on the frontlines of this crisis, bearing the brunt of New York’s lack of preparation. Working tirelessly, in the most difficult conditions imaginable, nurses helped save the lives of over 70,000 New Yorkers. We continue to stress in the strongest terms that we need a seat at the table if we are going to successfully learn the lessons of the past few months and effectively prepare for the next surge,” said Pat Kane, RN, NYSNA Executive Director.
“The nurses at my nursing home put their lives on the line to protect our residents and treat our very sick patients. Our record is clear: nurses at my facility and others where NYSNA nurses cared for patients in critical conditions helped save New York. We went to work every day without sufficient PPE, short-staffed, and with poor health and safety protocols, and we saved thousands of lives. We wish the Trump Administration had actually invoked the Defense Production Act to get us what we needed on the frontlines. We also wish that the State of New York had been more effective in getting us PPE. Hospitals still will not fully account for the PPE in their stocks. These were the conditions of work for us, NYSNA nurses– some gave their lives in the service of New York,” said Judy Johnson, RN, Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center.
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