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OpinionEditorial

Let's not forget about the vulnerable

Staff at the Bayville group home of the

Staff at the Bayville group home of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Nassau County, which houses 46 residents, bring some of them back inside the facility on April 8. Credit: Johnny Milano

The catastrophe unfolding in our nursing homes and homes for the disabled is incalcuable in its toll on the most vulnerable among us.

To begin to understand COVID-19’s impact, we must look at the numbers. And they’re awful.

Across New York state, 2,477 nursing home residents, and 583 residents of adult group homes, have died of the coronavirus. Stunningly, that’s more than a quarter of the state’s 11,586 coronavirus-related fatalities. More than 20% of those nursing and group home deaths have occurred in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The numbers are horrific but not surprising. The pandemic’s spread in the United States started in a nursing home in Washington state. We knew from the start that residents in these facilities were in danger. Staffs have been decimated by the illness, and testing wasn’t widely available.

We need more than county-wide statistics. We need to understand situations like the one that unfolded in CP Nassau’s Bayville adult home, where 37 of 46 residents tested positive for COVID-19, four of whom have died. CP Nassau had to develop a “safe house” in Roosevelt for those who aren’t sick, a step others might consider taking as necessary.

But the only reason we know about CP Nassau’s homes is because executives there are telling us. The state requires daily census reports from nursing and group homes. State health officials must make that data public, especially for hot spots like Long Island. The state’s refusal to do so, citing privacy concerns, doesn’t make sense. This isn’t about releasing the names of the deceased. This is about knowing where there were problems, so we can determine where conditions must change, and what new procedures should be put in place. Many institutions receive taxpayer dollars through Medicare and Medicaid funding. We deserve to know what’s going on behind closed doors.

Dedicated staff members, nurses, doctors, social workers, food preparers and maintenance crews are doing everything they can to help residents and their families. Most now have the protective equipment they need, after using makeshift gowns like garbage bags to get by. Some were unprepared and lacked state guidance on what protocols to follow.

Attention also must be paid to the families. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s execuive order Wednesday that requires nursing homes to report the number of COVID-19 cases to family members will help. Communication is key. Also, the state conducts video walk-throughs with individual homes’ staff to assess conditions. Sharing some of that information with families and the public, or finding ways to give us a window into what’s happening inside, could be helpful.

Many of the smaller homes also are in a precarious financial position; state and federal officials must make sure they get the funds they need.

The pandemic places a clear spotlight on how we care for our elderly and most vulnerable. We’ll need to reevaluate our standards. From infection protocol and visiting policies, to staff training and protection, there will be many questions that need answers.

But first, we must know what’s happening and where. 

— The editorial board

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