New York nursing homes, which have been devastated by COVID-19, are legally shielded by a little-known provision snuck into the state budget by aides to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), the New York Times reported.
More than 5,300 nursing home residents have died in New York of COVID-19, at least in part due to a state mandate that nursing homes readmit people who have tested positive for the virus if they're in stable condition. Relatives of the victims may not have any legal recourse against nursing homes that didn't adequately protect their loved ones.
According to the Times, the measure was pushed by nursing home industry representatives and passed without the knowledge of lawmakers who failed to read the fine print of the 347-page budget document:
Many lawmakers were unaware of the language when they approved the budget a few days later. But it provided unusual legal protections for an influential industry that has been devastated by the crisis: nursing home operators.
The measure, lobbied for by industry representatives, shielded nursing homes from many lawsuits over their failure to protect residents from death or sickness caused by the coronavirus.
This provision was added to the budget in late March, when it was clear that COVID-19 was going to cause serious damage in the state, particularly among the sick and elderly. The Times reported that it would "most likely" cover harm that arose from staffing or equipment shortages, but not criminal misconduct or gross negligence.
How much responsibility nursing homes have for the sicknesses and deaths in their facilities varies, and is debatable. Some homes claim they were not able to obtain sufficient levels of equipment such as masks and gowns as they were being overwhelmed by a situation they did not anticipate.
Not everyone agrees, however.
"They can't just shrug their shoulders and say, 'It's a pandemic,'" Vivian Rivera-Zayas, whose mother died of COVID-19 two days after being transferred from the home to a hospital, said, according to the Times. "There has to be accountability."
A spokeswoman for Cuomo said the legislation was not intended to single out nursing homes, but rather applied to other health care facilities as well, such as hospitals. She also said it was "not intended to shield any bad-acting facilities."
This story has been updated.