Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, speaks during a news...

Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, speaks during a news conference at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York, U.S., on Friday, March 27. Credit: Bloomberg/Angus Mordant

New York State's nursing homes cannot reject newly released hospital patients solely because they tested positive for the novel coronavirus, a new state directive says.

The order raised concern in an industry whose elderly and frail residents have the lowest survival rate for the disease. 

The state health department issued the new directive, which the nursing home industry says is a first, late Wednesday. "No resident shall be denied readmission or admission to the [nursing home] solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19,” the directive reads.

Hospitals are under pressure to discharge patients, including ones stricken with the coronavirus but who don't need ventilators, to open up beds for what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says will be a surge of thousands more cases in the next two to four weeks. However, nursing homes, whose workforce is struggling with problems like those in hospitals — arranging child care and managing a shortage of supplies like protective garb — fear their facilities will be overwhelmed.

The location of outbreaks in nursing homes mirror those seen in the state as a whole, officials said, with cases concentrated on Long Island, in New York City and in Westchester.

Stephen Hanse, CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association, a trade group, said the new policy appeared to be precautionary. "At the same time, it does raise significant concerns for nursing homes that don't have coronavirus-positive residents or are at capacity," Hanse said.

He also noted there are hospitals around the state that still have extra rooms and questioned why patients still fighting the virus would be sent to nursing homes housing the most vulnerable.

"We have the hindsight of Kirkland," he said, referring to the Washington State nursing home where nearly three dozen have died.

New York's nursing homes are well-trained in fighting infections and have the correct policies and procedures to handle outbreaks, he added.

Jonah Bruno, a state Department of Health spokesman, said the state has put in place new rules to fight the virus in nursing homes, such as eliminating communal dining and stopping visits. "Protecting New York’s most vulnerable nursing home population is a priority in addressing the current COVID-19 outbreak and containing the virus,” he said by email.

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