NY lawmakers call for transparency on COVID in homes for people with disabilities

Cuomo_Shutterstock_Hans_Pennink.jpg Gov. Andrew Cuomo Credit: Hans Pennink/Shutterstock

A group of New York state senators is calling on state Gov. Andrew Cuomo to rescind an order requiring group homes for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities to accept COVID-positive patients. 

Cuomo had issued a controversial directive last year requiring nursing homes in the state to accept patients discharged from hospitals with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID. In January of this year, the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James said that the state undercounted the number of nursing home deaths by as much as 50%. 

The March, 2020 directive on nursing homes was later rescinded in May, but a similar order remains in place for group homes for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities, three Republican New York state senators told CNA.

New York state Sens. Michael Martucci, Fred Akshar, Anthony Palumbo and James Tedisco recently sent a letter to Dr. Theodore Kastner, Commissioner of New York State Office of People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), seeking updated data from the governor’s office on all COVID deaths in group homes that care for the disabled. 

In an April 10, 2020 directive, the Cuomo administration said that all Certified Residential Facilities in New York “must have a process in place to expedite the return of asymptomatic residents from the hospital.”

“No individual shall be denied re-admission or admission to a Certified Residential Facility based solely on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19,” the document stated in bold font. The facilities also could not require COVID-19 testing for these residents being admitted or re-admitted.

A spokesperson for OPWDD--the state agency that coordinates services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and the office that issued the directive--said that patients were only discharged from hospitals to group homes once it was deemed “safe” to do so.

The agency stated to CNA that, under the policy, group home residents who are hospitalized for COVID-19 are discharged back to the homes “after being deemed safe to return by the hospital physician, in consultation with the residential provider.”

The policy also says that, if a group home is to deny a patient admission or re-admission, they can only do so based on their “inability to provide the level of care required.”

In interviews with CNA, Martucci, Palumbo, and Tedisco called on the Cuomo administration to release the full data on COVID cases and deaths in group homes, and to rescind the order. 

“This governor may have gotten an Emmy for his communication skills, he’ll never get an Emmy for transparency and open government, I can tell you that,” Tedisco said. “And you know, if you want to know if an Emmy can tarnish, all you’ve got to do is look on his mantle.” 

In November, Cuomo received the 2020 International Emmy Founders Award “in recognition of his leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic and his masterful use of television to inform and calm people around the world.”

Tedisco emphasized that the state providing transparency now is key to fighting future pandemics. 

“We need to see what missteps were taken here with another group of our most vulnerable population,” Tedisco added. “We need to know this for the future. Pandemics don’t go away forever.” 

Martucci, ranking member of New York Senate Disabilities Committee, said the state's group homes directive mirrors the nursing home directive. 

“They are eerily similar,” Martucci said. “Not only in their language, but even down to their formatting, and almost every point within them.” 

Martucci said that their request for data from OPWDD “has been completely stonewalled.”

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“At this point we do not have any response from the agency at all,” Martucci said.

Martucci argued that “there’s no question this order needs to be reversed immediately, adding that the families of those in group homes “are trusting our state and are trusting us to make sure their family members are safe.”

“What we need here is transparency, and we don’t have that,” Martucci said.

Palumbo, a member of the New York state Senate Mental Health Committee, said that residents of group homes are an “at risk” population, “and there is no reason for this directive to continue.” 

“This deserves an answer and a correction, very simply,” Palumbo said. 

Tedisco, who is ranking member of New York’s Senate Mental Health Committee, said he believes that the data will show the group homes directive jeopardized the health of residents. He said he and his colleagues have not yet received the requested data, and expressed a willingness to pursue that information with a lawsuit. 

“This governor’s got more angles than a geometry book, every time you show him the facts, there’s another excuse,” Tedisco said. 

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Tedisco argued that Cuomo--who is also facing a series of sexual harassment allegations--should resign. 

“This has got more legs and shoes dropping than a centipede could ever have,” Tedisco said. “you can’t keep track of it from one day to the next.”