Hold politicians accountable for COVID deathsat nursing homes | Opinion
This column is personal for me. I put myself through college working at two nursing homes. I still remember the names of some patients, having become friends with them and their families during those years. Bear with me as I revisit the early coronavirus timeline and the effect on seniors.
You may recall that the first reported COVID-19 death in the U.S. was in Kirkland, Wash., on Feb. 29, 2020. That same day, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 27 of the 108 residents of the long-term care facility, Life Care Center of Kirkland, had COVID symptoms.
While the U.S. had 60 confirmed cases that day, the number of people sickened worldwide by the virus was around 83,000, and there were already more than 2,800 deaths, mostly in China.
By that fateful day in late February, having watched its progress around the world, we already knew whom the coronavirus targeted. Responding to the Life Care Center outbreak, Jeff Duchin (public health officer for Seattle and King County) said that older adults and people with underlying health conditions like diabetes, heart, or lung diseases should be especially careful to avoid contact with people who are sick.
Fast forward four weeks. On March 25, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo passed a directive barring nursing homes from refusing people because they were COVID-19 positive. That directive immediately suffered intense criticism, saying it had the potential to further spread the virus in a state that already had the nation’s highest nursing home death toll.
Nursing home operators learned of the policy only after it was issued. A national group representing nursing home health providers immediately objected, saying the directive would introduce the virus into their facilities and was “not in the least consistent with patient safety principles.” They were right.
There were many places those infected patients could have been sent other than to infect the most vulnerable. By March 24, New York City’s Javits Convention Center had already been set up as a makeshift field hospital, capable of treating 2,910 patients. Yet this field hospital was hardly used. Fewer than 1,100 COVID-19 patients were treated there during the two months it was open.
Another underused potential, the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort, arrived in New York City on March 30. She had 1,000 beds and 12 operating rooms. The Navy even removed half of the beds to better isolate and treat COVID patients. On April 21, Cuomo told then President Trump that the ship was no longer needed in New York. It departed on April 30 after having treated only 179 patients.
New York wasn’t the only blue state that required nursing homes to accept COVID-19-positive patients. So did Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Michigan. But Cuomo’s policy was the first to make the news and caused the most deaths. And the data demonstrates that these blue-state policies directly led to more deaths. In N.Y. alone, more than 15,000 patients died after contracting COVID-19 in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other adult-care centers. About 14 percent of the New York nursing home population died. Compared to the national average of 8 percent who died in nursing homes, Cuomo’s directive killed an additional 6,400 elderly New Yorkers.
On top of all that, we learned last March that Cuomo’s top aids repeatedly worked to hide the number of nursing home deaths in New York by understating the actual number of deaths by half.
Last August, the Department of Justice opened an investigation into these additional nursing home deaths. Democrats complained that the investigation was politically driven. Apparently, asking what caused the death of an additional 6,400 elderly New Yorkers is an off-limits political question because last week, Biden’s DOJ announced that it had declined to continue investigating the policies that led to those additional deaths.
But the decision to cover-up and minimize the deaths of thousands of seniors is unconscionable. Grieving families and friends deserve answers, and politicians deserve accountability.
I was hopeful that the architects of these murderous directives and those who signed them into law would ultimately be held accountable. Yet quoting Hillary Clinton from her Benghazi testimony, “What difference at this point does it make?” The deaths of 6,400 elderly New Yorkers should make a difference. But it won’t.
Courtney served 20 years in nuclear engineering aboardsubmarines and 15 years as a graduate school instructor. He now spends his spare time chasing his grandchildren around the Palouse.