Top nursing home association begs Cuomo, Zucker to relax testing, visitation rules

ALBANY — One of New York’s top nursing home associations wants Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to change two strict policies: a mandate requiring staffers get tested once a week and another governing visitation standards.

“We respectfully request the State to revise its current policies concerning nursing home and assisted living COVID-19 staff testing and resident visitation restrictions to safeguard the health and well-being of our residents and ensure the continued provision of necessary long term care services throughout New York,” wrote Steve Hanse, CEO of the New York State Healthcare Facilities Association, in a letter Friday.

The group which represents 425 nursing homes and adult care facilities housing 70,000 individuals — argues a two-day-old Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services testing guidance makes more sense compared to the DOH’s current rule that requires all nursing home staffers get tested for the virus once a week.

The new regulations would require resident and staff testing once a month for facilities in counties with less than 5 percent COVID-19 positive infection rates, once a week for those with a positivity rate between 5 and 10 percent, and twice a week for those with a rate over 10 percent.

New York State has recorded a less than 1 percent infection rate statewide for three weeks.

However, some regions experiencing spikes due to clusters — like in Western New York, near Buffalo — may have higher rates of infection.

The Cobble Hill Health Center nursing home at 380 Henry St, Brooklyn.
The Cobble Hill Health Center nursing home at 380 Henry St, Brooklyn.Annie Wermiel/NY Post

“The State’s current policy must be replaced with CMS’s rule in order to both focus testing where it is needed most and alleviate the State’s unfunded mandate that is imposing unsustainable financial constraints on providers,” Hanse added.

He told The Post the once-a-week test mandate is expensive — estimating a weekly $16 million cost for tests between all 160,000 skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities combined.

Tests are estimated at $100 a pop, plus getting results back in a timely fashion from already backed up labs is another struggle.

Hanse also argued the DOH’s rule that homes can’t have a positive resident or staff coronavirus test results for at least a 28-day period before visitation may resume, is unrealistic and should be cut in half to 14 days.

Homes got the green light to resume visits on July 15, as long as they could prove they met the 28-day rule.

While federal guidance also recommends the 28-day threshold, it is more limited, in that it ends once an area has reached phase one or two of reopening plans — all regions in New York have entered phase four.

Meanwhile, families have been desperately lobbying the state to loosen restrictions.

Hanse said NYSHFA conducted a survey of around 300 nursing homes and adult care homes, finding 77 percent were still unable to open.

“Consequently, all residents were prohibited from experiencing in-person visitation to the detriment of both their physical, social and mental well-being,” he said of the results.

Adding the 28-day rule “has the unintended consequence of preventing individuals from receiving the necessary care they need. Many individuals and their families do not want to enter long-term care facilities if they are not going to be able to have in-person visits with their loved ones for an extended, unknown period of time.”

“The State’s 28-day restriction is not just difficult for residents and families but directly impacts access to necessary care,” he said.

The DOH said 304 out of the Empire State’s 613 nursing homes are allowed to reopen as of Thursday, but only 230 submitted mandatory plans delineating safety protocols.

Over 6,400 elderly residents have died from either presumed or confirmed coronavirus cases since March, attracting attention from the U.S. Justice Department which demanded state data earlier this week.

Neither Cuomo’s office nor the DOH were available for immediate comment.

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