Senate Health Committee advances bill to study COVID nursing home deaths

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The Senate Health Committee passed a bill that would create a temporary state commission with subpoena power to study the more than 15,000 deaths of New York state nursing home residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill (S.8285), sponsored by Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, moved out of the Senate Health Committee on April 26 and now resides in the Finance Committee. The legislation is sponsored in the Assembly (A.3162) by Ron Kim, D-Queens. 

If the bill becomes law, the bipartisan commission to investigate the nursing home deaths would consist of five members: one each appointed by the Senate majority leader, Senate minority leader, Assembly speaker and Assembly minority leader, and chaired by an appointee of the New York State Attorney General. 

Each appointee would be required to have expertise in health care and health care policy. Commission members would not be paid and they would have subpoena power. A report would be publicly issued and sent to the Legislature with findings and recommendations for the future.

“We remember that every life lost was more than just a statistic, these individuals were someone’s spouse, parent, grandparent and sibling and they deserve justice,” Tedisco said. “I appreciate the members of the Senate Health Committee passing out of committee my bill for an independent, bipartisan investigation … into the deaths of thousands of New Yorkers in our nursing homes.”

Tedisco is calling on his colleagues on the Senate Finance Committee to move the bill forward and for Senate leadership to bring this measure to the Senate Floor for a debate and up and down vote “so we can get answers for the families who lost loved ones in state-regulated nursing homes,” he said.

The commission created by this legislation would be funded through the existing state budget for investigators. A report to the Legislature of findings and recommendations for the future would be issued by November 30.

Tedisco and Kim say the bill is an effort of “true bipartisanship,” a relative rarity in today’s politics. A record of the Health Committee’s votes for the bill shows this to be true. Though the bill has one Democratic co-sponsor in the Senate  — Senator Julia Salazar — of the 13 senators who voted “aye,” four of them are Democrats and another four voted “aye with reservations.”

The lone “no” vote was cast by Senate Health Committee Chair Gustavo Rivera.

The bill memo states that “This legislation will remove the politics of getting to the bottom of this terrible tragedy because this investigation would be overseen by bi-partisan appointees from both houses of the Legislature.”

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Earlier this session, Tedisco, Kim and other lawmakers held a rally with families of the victims on the lawn of the state Capitol to remember those who died in nursing homes during the pandemic. 

The group is advocating for a bill (S.8217/A.9691), sponsored by Sen. Robert Orrt and Assemblyman Kim, that would establish March 25 each year as “We Care Remembrance Day.” That day would honor nursing home residents who lost their lives due to COVID-19. 

The bills are a response to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to release an executive order on March 25, 2020 that forced forced nursing homes to admit discharged hospital patients who were infected with COVID-19. Many believe that this order was directly responsible for the overwhelming number of nursing home related COVID-19 deaths under Cuomo’s administration. 

“We feel it’s important to acknowledge that the March 25 executive order was one of the biggest mistakes that the state has made in sending COVID patients to unprepared nursing homes,” Assemblyman Kim said. “We want families to understand that we do care, and that we want to acknowledge the mistakes and we want to get better and this is how we can honor them.”

“The state drastically undercounted nursing home deaths,” said Sen. Sue Serino. “Mark my words, we will never forget. It’s never too late to do the right thing.”

Advocates, such as Vivian Zayas, the founder of Voices for Seniors, also spoke. 

“Today and everyday is a day of remembrance. It falls on us to ensure that every senior in every state is treated with dignity and love,” Zayas said. 

“We never know when this pandemic is going to rise up again like it has in the past,” said Tedisco. “We know in the future it’s probably going to come back and that’s why it’s so important to get an understanding of the real science behind the disease and what this Governor and this Commissioner in the past did wrong and what they did right.”

Caleb Guerrido is a senior at SUNY New Paltz and majors in journalism. He wants to become a sports radio broadcaster/podcaster, and eventually own his own podcasting network. In his spare time, Caleb loves listening and creating podcasts, hanging out with friends and making money moves.