Near the end of his news conference Tuesday, Gov. Cuomo was asked a question about nursing homes. As part of his answer, he described the devilish dangers they face from the coronavirus outbreak because of their vulnerable sick and elderly residents.
“What’s really happened in nursing homes is what we’ve feared from the get-go,” Cuomo said. He called them “ground zero” for the virus and added:
“It just takes one [infected] person . . . to walk in there and then it is fire through dry grass.”
As a statement of fact, there is nothing wrong and everything right with those words. But the governor’s clear understanding of the special circumstances nursing homes face deepens the mystery about why he allowed his Department of Health to force sick patients into those same facilities.
After all, if a single infected staff member could start a “fire through dry grass” in a facility, what could 10 or 15 or 20 infected patients do to all the vulnerable people inside a nursing home? And what havoc could thousands of those infected patients cause in hundreds of nursing homes across the state?
Add Maria Porteus to the long list of the bereaved who want answers to those and other questions regarding the state policy.
Her 82-year-old father, Carlos Gallegos, died April 9 at Luxor Nursing and Rehabilitation on Long Island. Porteus’ experience mirrors the outlines of so many others who are coming forward to share their tales of tragedy.
“On March 31st, I got a call from a nurse, telling me my father had a fever of 102 degrees and it wasn’t going down,” Porteus told me Tuesday. “She said not to worry, because he doesn’t move around much.”
When Porteus told the nurse she didn’t understand the point about her father not moving around, the nurse responded by saying, “Don’t you follow the news? The state forced us to bring in these sick people. We had no choice but we’re not happy about it here.”
The Department of Health order, dated March 25, decreed that nursing homes and rehab centers could not use a positive COVID-19 test as the sole basis for rejecting a patient being referred from hospitals. Fearing state regulators, many facility executives say they accepted the transfers even though they believed the order was a death sentence for some existing patients and staff.
Luxor officials say they took 25 to 30 infected transfers under the mandate. Porteus said the Luxor nurse told her they didn’t have any tests to find out if her father was positive for the virus, but they treated him as if he were. Soon, his fever dropped and he seemed to have recovered.
Then, as with so many other victims, the fever returned days later. Soon he was near death, and Porteus and her brother, dressed in protective gowns and masks, were allowed end-of-life visits.
“Every time he tried to breathe, it was like firecrackers going off in his body,” she said, sobbing. “I didn’t understand how this could happen so fast.”
Her father, an auto mechanic who owned his own business, had been in Luxor for three years. He had dementia but was otherwise in sound physical condition. “I know in my heart he wasn’t supposed to die now,” Porteus said.
He was never tested for the virus, but his daughter says his death certificate lists the cause of death as “possible COVID-19.” Because of the enormous numbers of deaths, she had to wait 12 agonizing days until she could have him cremated. She is also angry at being unable to get his medical records, saying Luxor does not return her calls.
The facility, which has 252 beds, confirms Gallegos is one of 22 residents it lost to the virus despite setting up separate units to house the infected patients forced on it by the state. The staffs were segregated, and coronavirus patients used disposable plates and utensils so nothing had to return to the kitchen.
Luxor executives say they did everything they could and continue to update their practices to meet evolving state guidelines.
Although he softened his tone Tuesday after vowing to remove the licenses of some nursing homes last week, Cuomo nonetheless still intends to investigate them over the huge number of COVID-19 fatalities, now exceeding 3,600.
No doubt he will find flaws and errors, as routine inspections often do. But any indication that homes had serious problems pre-pandemic only underscores the mistake of ordering them to take infected patients. If they weren’t up to snuff before, how in the world could they handle coronavirus patients?
The governor, as is his wont at the daily briefings, tries to illustrate points with stories about his family. On Tuesday he praised the generosity of the grandfather he was named after, an immigrant who, Cuomo said, nearly bankrupted himself during the Depression by giving away food to customers who couldn’t afford to pay.
The grieving families of those who died in nursing homes could use some of that Cuomo compassion now. Death reached out and snatched their loved ones in what seemed an instant and they understandably want to know why.
Similarly, staffs and nurses in those facilities deserve recognition and support, not a nitpicking, punitive probe with political overtones. Like the valiant hospital workers and other first responders who are saluted by a thankful nation at 7 p.m. every evening, nursing-home workers suddenly found themselves on the front lines of a war against an invisible enemy. It is left to them to hold the hands and comfort the dying.
They, too, deserve our heartfelt gratitude.
Ignoring Biden’s accuser
Few of us can possibly know if Joe Biden sexually assaulted former aide Tara Reade in 1993, but it sure does smell to high heaven that so many left-wing media outlets aren’t even curious.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Biden has sat for “about 20 television interviews as well as podcasts and virtual fundraisers. He hasn’t been asked about Ms. Reade’s claims at any of those events.”
Apparently all women should be believed only when they make accusations against Republicans. When the charges involve a Democrat, it’s not even a story.
The decision by the state Board of Elections to cancel the presidential primary in June is perhaps necessary given the virus situation. But there still will be primaries for Congress and state races, and they could be affected by the removal of the presidential race.
In fact, election officials, appointed by the Democratic Party, say they believe lower voter turnout will make the day safer for voters and poll workers. Not incidentally, lower turnout generally favors incumbents.
Finally, a good headline
Baseball discussing plan to start season in late June.
Imagine the sweet sound of “Play Ball!”