GOP wants new health commissioner to look at COVID-19 in nursing homes

State Senate Republicans are calling on the new state health commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, to review a controversial directive approved by her predecessor at the start of the pandemic that required nursing homes to admit COVID-positive residents.

They made the call a day before Bassett is scheduled to testify before the state legislature in its annual hearing on the state’s health care spending budget.

The directive in question was issued by the Cuomo administration by former state health commissioner Howard Zucker in March 2020. It prohibited nursing homes from turning away COVID-positive residents solely on the basis of this diagnosis.

Critics of the directive said it put nursing home residents at risk of catching the virus, although facilities were required to separate those who tested positive from others.

Republicans are also proposing legislation that would require the state Department of Health to launch an investigation into his actions under his predecessor and release a report on its findings.

This proposal was partly the result of comments Bassett made in January, before it was confirmed, when she said she would not investigate the actions of her predecessor.

“I wasn’t there and decided I wouldn’t take the time to sort out the previous situation,” Bassett said.

She said, however, that she would “offer to resign” before implementing advice that would be harmful to the public.

At Monday’s press conference, Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt said it was imperative for the new Department of Health to correct past mistakes.

“It’s probably very embarrassing for her (Bassett) and her boss, but I can tell you it’s not as embarrassing as the death of the 15,000 people that happened in this state,” Ortt said.

“These families have never received an apology. No one has ever been held responsible. The last governor told them “who cares”.

A report released by the state attorney general’s office about a year ago claimed that the state may have underreported deaths of nursing home residents by up to 50 percent. The report also says the March 2020 directive may have resulted in additional COVID deaths in nursing homes.

However,a report released by Zucker’s health departmentargued that the coronavirus entered nursing homes through asymptomatic staff and visitors.

Sen. Sue Serino, a leading Republican on the Senate Committee on Aging, said she plans to push Bassett on the issue during her testimony at Tuesday’s budget hearing.

“We plan to ask her about this, and I sincerely hope her response has changed. If not, Governor Hochul needs to keep the promises she made to grieving families by including this language in his 30-day budget amendments.

Tuesday’s hearing is a joint hearing, meaning Senate and House lawmakers will participate.

A second bill unveiled at Monday’s press conference would mark March 25, the day the controversial directive was released, as ‘We Care Remembrance Day’ to honor nursing home residents lost to the virus. .

“Family members deserve this, they deserve to know that we’re not going to forget them,” said Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Schenectady.

“We have a 9/11 commemoration, and we should, for the 3,000 people who lost their lives. For 15,000 of our most vulnerable population, we should have a day of remembrance. »

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