Hospitals cannot release a COVID-19 patient into a nursing home, governor says

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday outlined additional steps the state is taking to protect the vulnerable population in nursing homes from COVID-19 and said facilities could lose their license for failing to provide appropriate care to a patient.

A nursing home must transfer a patient out of the facility if it cannot provide appropriate care for whatever reason, such as lack of staff, personal protective equipment or quarantine space, Mr. Cuomo said. The State Department of Health can then help coordinate finding another facility.

All nursing home staff must now also be tested twice a week, he said. That goes above simple temperature checks for staff entering a facility. They must be given diagnostic tests as well.

“That is a rule, not a ‘I’d appreciate it if you did,’ ” the governor said.

Hospitals also cannot discharge a patient to a nursing home unless that patient tests negative for COVID-19.

“I want the nursing home operators to understand this: We have alternate facilities for nursing home patients, COVID or non-COVID,” Mr. Cuomo said. “We created 40,000 hospital beds because we had to. We have beds available. We also set up COVID-only facilities.”

Nursing homes have been particularly vulnerable to the virus spreading among their population. In Suffolk County, as of Friday’s data from the state DOH, there have been 440 confirmed fatalities at nursing homes and another 227 fatalities presumed to be COVID-19. There are also 26 fatalities at adult care facilities and 13 presumed.

The state recently began releasing more detailed breakdown of fatalities at specific facilities. Peconic Bay Medical Center’s skilled nursing facility, which advertises itself as a 60-bed facility, has reported 15 fatalities. Peconic Landing in Greenport, where some of the earliest cases and fatalities back in March were reported, has seen six confirmed COVID-19 fatalities and three presumed deaths. Those numbers only refer to the nursing home portion of the facility, which is a lifecare and retirement community.

Acadia Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Riverhead has reported six fatalities and one presumed death. There have been no deaths reported at San Simeon by the Sound in Greenport.

The new state orders follow earlier measures from March that say nursing homes cannot discriminate a patient’s entrance solely on the basis of being COVID-19 positive or even suspected positive.

A nursing home, however, must still meet a list of criteria to accept a COVID-19 patient — such as having adequate PPE, segregated staff and space for quarantine. If the facility cannot meet those requirements, they must call the DOH to assist in finding another facility.

“[A nursing home] can’t discriminate on the basis of COVID positive,” Mr. Cuomo said. “A hospital cannot discharge a person who is COVID positive to a nursing home. The hospital can either hold the COVID positive person or discharge them to one of our other facilities. This will reduce the burden on nursing homes all across the board, because they’re not going to get any COVID people from a hospital.”

The latest measure “puts the obligation on hospitals,” said Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor. “It’s saying a hospital cannot release a COVID-19 patient into a nursing home facility until they test negative.”

Mr. Cuomo defended the state’s prior position that allowed patients from hospitals to be released back into nursing homes. The declining rate of hospitalizations across the state has now created an opportunity for hospitals to keep patients longer, he said.

“At one time, hospital beds were precious,” he said.

The governor also pointed to statistics that show New York’s percentage of deaths in nursing homes is 34th highest of any state. In New York, 12% of reported fatalities have been in nursing homes, whereas other states have seen 50% or more of their fatalities in nursing homes. Connecticut, for example, has seen 55% of fatalities in nursing homes.

The latest numbers on new COVID-19 hospitalizations per day show the lowest total since March 20 when the crisis was still in its early stage and the stay-at-home order first went into effect. The latest figure for Saturday is 521 new hospitalizations in the state.

“521 takes us right back to where we started this hellish journey,” Mr. Cuomo said. “It has been a painful period of time between March 20 and May 9.”

An additional 207 fatalities were reported Saturday. There have been 1,342 statewide deaths since May 4 related to COVID-19.

The number of deaths Saturday is around the same figure that was seen on March 27 during the climb toward the peak.

Mr. Cuomo said on Monday he would talk more about the NY Pause executive order set to expire May 15. Regions must meet a list a criteria to begin the first reopening phase and he said some regions, presumably upstate where the crisis has been less severe, are ready to hit all those metrics.