Grieving families still need closure

Kate Lisa/Johnson Newspaper Corp. Cindy Lizzi, left, with brothers Ted and Phil Minissale, pose in front of the state Capitol in Albany on Thursday with white roses and a photo of their mother, Agnes, to remember her and the New Yorkers who died from COVID-19 in congregate facilities.

There are several reasons that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is under fire from so many quarters, but one stands out among all the others because it ensnared so many New Yorkers — the nursing home scandal. Put simply, thousands of family members are still grieving over the loss of loved ones to COVID-19 — deaths they argue could have been prevented. Furthermore, the survivors say, the governor and state health officials lied to them to covered up their own carelessness.

That’s why scores of family members and friends of loved ones who died from COVID-19 in nursing homes joined lawmakers outside the state Capitol on Thursday to mourn the thousands of New Yorkers who died in adult-care facilities and designate a statewide day of remembrance in their honor.

They gathered on the one-year anniversary of the state Health Department’s now-infamous March 25, 2020, memorandum, which allowed COVID-positive residents to return to their nursing homes or adult-care facilities to recover. Adding to the dismay of families, the memo remained in effect until last May 10 and is not found on the Health Department’s website.

Hard as it is to believe, more than 9,000 patients recovering from COVID-19 last year were discharged from hospitals and sent back to the state’s 613 nursing homes. More than 15,000 New York nursing home residents died from COVID-19 complications since the state’s first official case March 1, including those outside the facility in hospitals or hospice and presumed virus fatalities when testing was scarce.

Harder to accept, the state reported just under 9,000 deaths until state Attorney General Letitia James released a report two months ago that the state undercounted the total virus-related nursing home fatalities up to 55%.

This is why the attorney general was correct to point out in her report that the March 25 Department of Health guidance was consistent with and followed federal guidance issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — but it was not a directive to accept COVID-19 patients if they could not otherwise provide appropriate care. As it turns out, the nursing homes understood the guidance but the state somehow did not. Family members and staff alike have said nursing homes were unprepared with Personal Protective Equipment, testing and personnel to successfully keep the virus at bay.

March 25, 2020, italicizes the difference between obstinacy and empathy and the need for accountability and justice for bereft families.

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