Nursing homes are confused about which pandemic health and safety protocols they should keep following and want to know why the state Health Department is directing them to follow some newly expired guidance since Gov. Andrew Cuomo abruptly ended the coronavirus state of emergency last week.
Nursing home officials have been begging the DOH for clarification on at least 30 executive orders after Cuomo’s announcement last Thursday, according to an internal memo detailing the policies in limbo.
Staffers have been directed to keep following expired June 10 guidance mandating once-a-week testing for unvaccinated staff, emails obtained by The Post show.
"The current guidance is expired so does that mean we are no longer accountable for testing until a new guidance is released?" one staffer wrote in an email on Monday, June 28th.
But the DOH hastily released a revised order Thursday afternoon permitting nursing homes to follow federal CMS guidance order once a month testing for these individuals if the county positivity rate is less than 5 percent.
New York’s statewide positivity rate has been below 1 percent since the beginning of June.
"Effective immediately, operators and administrators of all nursing homes are required to test or arrange for the routine testing for COVID-19 of all personnel who have not been fully vaccinated, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including employees, contract staff, medical staff, operators and administrators, for COVID-19 once per month consistent with county positivity rates and the updated April 27, 2021 CMS guidance (QSO 20- 38-NH) which stated "vaccinated staff do not need to be routinely tested," wrote Sheila McGarvey Thursday, the DOH’s director of nursing homes in a memo obtained by The Post.
But other issues remain in limbo including whether or not unlicensed workers — such as certified nursing aides — are still permitted to give COVID-19 tests to residents.
Also up in the air is a requirement permitting out of state workers to keep posts in New York nursing homes without facing civil or criminal penalties for lacking a New York license, as well as the relaxing of strict visitation requirements such whether or not vaccinated residents and staff still have to adhere to social distancing rules.
Roughly 15,000 virus-related deaths have been recorded in nursing homes since the pandemic began, according to the DOH.
The New York State Bar Association released a report last month blasting the Cuomo administration for adopting the controversial March 25, 2020 directive that required facilities to admit "medically stable" COVID-19 patients discharged from hospitals. Their analysis concluded the order increased the overall death toll in elder care facilities.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of New York is investigating the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing home death data and whether or not officials willingly withheld the true total of virus-related deaths.
The Democratic-led state Assembly is also probing the matter in a wide ranging impeachment inquiry into Cuomo, which includes multiple allegations of sexual harassment against the governor and the alleged misuse of state resources tied to his $5.1 million "American Crisis" book deal.
"The DOH says no, there’s no change in guidance. Of course there’s changes, because the order is over. It’s just one more in a long series of … horrible communication," seethed Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin, who has been in communication with the county-run home — the Van Rensselaer Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation.
"It’s so unprofessional for the DOH to be clueless for this long. They couldn’t manage a yard sale. It sets up nursing homes for failure, it sets them up to be fined," he said.
"The executive orders and the commissioner’s requirements put in place required staff testing, the maintenance of certain amounts of personal protective equipment based upon a surge over a year ago, the daily HERDS reporting and then requirements on visitation. We expect that the expiration of the executive orders changed all that — but we do not have confirmation on that," Michael Balboni, executive director of the Greater New York Health Care Facilities Association told The Post.
"There is no guidance yet. There needs to be guidance. I know the department is working on it. It’s very easy in some respects to ramp up in an emergency but it’s difficult to unwind, while ensuring that you don’t lose some of the protections that you’ve gained."
"God forbid there’s a spike," he added.
"Members are saying ‘get us answers.’ We’re trying to work with the department to get their guidance. They said they’re working on it."
The DOH told The Post that "All long term care facilities received written clarification early this afternoon."
"Pursuant to CMS guidance, operators and administrators of all nursing homes are required to test or arrange for the routine testing for COVID-19 of all personnel who have not been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 once per month consistent with county positivity rates," read a statement from the health department.
"Any positive test result must continue to be reported to the Department of Health. Adult care facilities are no longer required to test or arrange for the routine testing of staff, irrespective of vaccination status.
Unvaccinated individuals should be encouraged to wear a facemask or face covering. All long-term care facilities in New York State should continue to screen all staff, residents and everyone entering the facility, such as vendors, volunteers, and visitors, for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, consistent with CDC."