By James Clyne | May 11, 2020

As the COVID-19 virus has engulfed New York, mission-driven not-for-profit long term care providers (LTC) have been engaged in selfless and heroic work. They are working, under extraordinarily challenging conditions, to care for residents who are particularly vulnerable to this devastating virus.

They are striving to maintain a high quality-of-life in facilities that are their residents’ homes, without the ability to carry on normal dining and social routines and without the comfort of family visitation. They are trying to soothe agitated residents with dementia who do not understand this disruption, need the freedom to wander and to touch; cannot tolerate wearing masks; and are frightened of those who do.

At the same time, the staff and the residents are grieving for the residents and co-workers they have lost to this deadly virus.

Each COVID-19 case, and each individual included in the deaths announced daily, represents a treasured life. These victims were husbands and wives, veterans, our neighbors. They were beloved. Tragically, their age and underlying health conditions also made them vulnerable to COVID-19.

Their caregivers come to work every day. They put their lives, and their own families, at risk because they are committed to their residents, as well as the families who are unable to visit their loved ones. They feel called to help fight and blunt this virus so residents can continue living meaningful lives.

It is troubling, and unfair, to see misplaced blame directed from a podium, when this virus reveals itself in a long-term care community.

Since early March, LeadingAge New York has raised serious concerns regarding New York’s approach to combatting COVID-19 in nursing homes, assisted living and other LTC settings.
The State issued directives and actions without any consultation with stakeholders or any understanding or appreciation of their feasibility or the negative effects they may have on nursing home residents, for example:

  • Requiring admission to nursing homes to confirmed COVID patients;
  • Authorizing asymptomatic employees to continue working, irrespective of whether they had been exposed to the virus; and.
  • Extending the use of PPE through repeated cleaning, rather than following infection control best practices.

Unlike many states that have increased funding and targeted staffing resources for nursing homes in response to the COVID emergency in neighboring states such as Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut) – New York admonished nursing homes with impractical requirements, blame and investigations, while failing to provide the critical resources they need.

With the lives of vulnerable individuals at stake, health policy must be based on real world, practical conditions, rather than vilification.

To stem the tide of this virus, LTC Providers need access to on-site rapid testing and re-testing of all residents and staff, sufficient personal protective equipment, and financial assistance and other supports to enable adequate staffing.

The coronavirus pandemic is a long-term fight; and now we urge lawmakers to join the battle, and support our efforts – rather than offer critical commentary, pointless investigations and punitive threats.

James W. Clyne, Jr. is the CEO and President of LeadingAge New York, a statewide association representing not-for-profit long term care providers such as nursing homes, assisted living residences and personal care.