About a decade ago, Orange County sought to sell Valley View, our publicly owned and operated nursing home. Representing a group of residents, I successfully sued to stop that sale on the ground that our County Legislature had not approved it by the required two-thirds majority. Almost immediately after this legal victory, the County began profitably operating the nursing home; indeed, controversy next erupted when County Executive Steve Neuhaus proposed diverting federal and state funds earmarked for Valley View to the general fund.
With COVID, nursing homes became an epicenter of controversy. In late March 2020, Governor Cuomo and his Commissioner of Health directed nursing homes to admit hospital patients who had tested COVID-positive. Nursing homes lacked PPE and staffing required to meet the needs of the pandemic. Disputes arose about the state’s under-reporting of deaths at nursing homes and disgraced Governor Cuomo admitted that this did occur.
Today, 92,000 New Yorkers live in nursing homes and long-term care residential facilities. And again, controversy has erupted over staffing shortfalls at many of these critical care facilities. Led by Marcella Goheen from Queens, families of residents recently held a press conference and explained the profound impact under-staffing was having at these facilities. Loved ones reported that residents were not getting medication or regular meals because a single nurse was assigned more than forty patients, and certified nursing assistants were likewise calling in absent with increasing frequency all over the state.
Family members from Rochester, Albany, Long Island and the Hudson Valley repeated the same stories, and the group demanded that Governor Kathy Hochul call up the national guard to supplement shrinking staffs at residential care facilities. Speakers noted that one major impediment to help is the failure of the facilities themselves to request or demand state assistance. Concerned about public branding and diminishing their attractiveness, facilities do not want to publicly demand help.
The lives and well-being of 92,000 New Yorkers is more important that branding concerns, and our Governor needs to call up available person power to meet the staffing crisis occasioned by understandable staff burn-out and the Omicron surge. There is no time to lose.
Legislation dictating staffing ratios only goes so far. There is no enforcement and no practical way to ensure compliance. And non-compliance often is not the result of intentional or contemptuous conduct by the facilities; rather, the pool of available staff is limited. It is now critical to meet the need with persons dedicated to respond to public emergencies, and the Governor can make this happen in real time.
Michael Sussman, Esq.