ALBANY — A leading advocacy group for home health aides for disabled and elderly New Yorkers is taking issue with Gov Andrew Cuomo's contention that nursing home patients are safer being in congregant settings than they would be if they got help at home from caregivers.
Bryan O'Malley, director of the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Association of New York State, said Cuomo's remark during a network television interview was a "false narrative" that harms the morale of dedicated home health aides providing care to tens of thousands of new Yorkers.
"Throughout this pandemic, home care workers, whether personal care aides, home health aides, or personal assistants, have risked their lives and the lives of their families, often for minimum wage," O'Malley said in response to statements Cuomo made Sunday on "Meet the Press."
"If you’re at home and have an aide coming in, that aide is not tested," the governor said. "In a nursing home, the staff is tested once a week.”
Cuomo has encountered questions about his administration's management of the coronavirus contagion at nursing homes, where more than 6,200 patients have died from COVID-19 over the past four months. The death tally does not include nursing home patients who died after being transferred to hospitals.
"This narrative seems designed to prop up the nursing homes at the expense of another service that people generally find to be much more attractive" than being moved into a nursing home.
O'Malley said a recent survey of consumers getting home care found that 75% of respondents indicated they feared coronavirus would force them to be admitted to a nursing home.
"Their fears are valid, when one out of every four COVID-19 confirmed deaths in NY occurred in nursing homes — and one out of three in the month of June," O'Malley said. "The statistics are even worse for Black, brown and immigrant New Yorkers."
Reacting to O'Malley's statement, Jill Montag, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, an agency controlled by Cuomo, said: "We take the well-being of New York State's home health aides very seriously and respect and appreciate the difficult work they do on a daily basis to care for New Yorkers in their own homes, especially during this ongoing global pandemic."
She noted the state agency has provided more than 500,000 items of personal protection equipment to home care agencies and is "in regular communication with the state's Licensed Home Care Services Agencies, and will continue to provide guidance and assistance as we work together to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic."
According to Department of Health data, the vacancy rate at New York nursing homes has climbed markedly in recent months, a trend first highlighted by the Empire Center for Public Policy, an Albany think tank.
As of May 20, 21% of the state's nursing home beds were empty, up from an average of 8% over the previous two years, the center's director of health policy, Bill Hammond, reported.
Hammond suggested one explanation is that patient admissions have ebbed because of concerns about conditions in the nursing homes. He also said the state has been undercounting the COVID-19 fatalities at the homes by not including the hospital deaths.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com