May 21, 2020
Who Will Answer for New York’s Nursing Home Catastrophe?
By Buck Sexton
This past weekend, Midtown Manhattan streets were finally alive with activity, as people tired of the two-months-and-counting lockdown. When the Big Apple is bathed in sunshine and warmth, all of a sudden sitting on the couch eating Häagen-Dazs and watching Hulu becomes much less appealing. Everyone wanted out, and they took to the streets like a massive jailbreak.
Finally, the economic thaw feels imminent for NYC. There are more and more restaurants opening up in Hell’s Kitchen, where I live, and from what I’m told, all across the city, too… Most people rarely leave their neighborhoods these days – part of the “we are all in this together” and “flatten the curve” mantras.
Small businesses are getting ready for a reopen in a matter of weeks. Plus clothing stores, florists, you name it… It’s just a start, but it’s encouraging at a time when anything moving in the right direction feels like an answer to a prayer.
We are told all of this is only possible because we have listened to the “experts” and stayed home. Putting aside the very real questions about the causation between the drop in deaths and the lockdowns (a debate that will become increasingly fierce as the “second wave” emerges this winter), one thing has become abundantly clear: The people in charge failed to protect senior citizens in nursing homes.
The body count in New York’s assisted-living facilities has been horrific. As of this week, there have been more than 5,600 deaths in New York nursing homes alone, out of an overall count of 23,000. Keep in mind, there are just over 117,000 residents of nursing homes in the state. It’s a staggering number of fatalities for a group that’s a tiny fraction of the general population.
There’s no shortage of blame to go around when it comes to COVID-19 decisions from our political class. But on the issue of nursing homes in New York, the same Governor Cuomo who was lecturing the country on how “every life is precious” made an unfathomable decision back in March. The Governor signed an order that nursing homes must take patients back from hospitals, even if they were believed to still be carriers of the disease.
This was a stunning, monumental blunder, and many people almost certainly lost their lives because of it. There are a lot of questions that remain about COVID, but the data on mortality are clear. The lethality of the disease overwhelmingly concentrates on those over age 65, and over 80 even more so. To take any undue risk by introducing a possibly coronavirus-positive senior back into a nursing home is madness.
Politicians like Cuomo had ample warning of the risk to seniors. The first major outbreak that showed the lethality of COVID-19 virus on U.S. soil was in a nursing home in Washington State. The earlier stories of the overwhelmed hospital staff in Lombardy, Italy and the surrounding area were the wake-up call for the western world. Less press was devoted, however, to the fact that a majority of the deceased in northern Italy were over 80. This is a disease that overwhelmingly kills seniors – our aging moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas – and nobody in power did what was necessary to protect them here.
The problem stretches far beyond one state. The mass death in New York’s nursing homes is the highest, but overall COVID-19 deaths across the country are concentrated disproportionately in nursing homes. A recent New York Times analysis estimated more than 28,000 deaths in these facilities, which is one-third of the national total for COVID-19 mortality. This is a national tragedy… and a scandal.
How could this have happened? While our national media was focused on the panic porn models of Neil Ferguson and his absurd claim that up to 2 million could die from the disease in the U.S., our most vulnerable populations were left woefully vulnerable. And seniors, who entrusted others with their care and safety, paid a horrible price.
Perhaps instead of arresting fathers for taking their children out to empty parks for some fresh air, the authorities could have taken the necessary steps to protect those who, from the very beginning of this pandemic, have been at the greatest risk.
Instead, the governors and public health officials were lobbying for lockdowns of dubious benefit and astronomical cost. And they failed to take the most essential measures of all to protect the most vulnerable among us.
Will anybody pay a price for this? Almost certainly not, other than the families who lost loved ones. Governor Cuomo has somehow become a media hero despite his extremely poor record on this pandemic.
The human carnage in our nursing homes is a stark reminder that even when government takes near total power into its hands, it’s still incompetent, unaccountable, and slothful. Each of us is ultimately on our own no matter how many times the government says, “we are all in this together.”
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And let us know what you’re reading at [email protected].
Executive Editor, American Consequences
With P.J. O’Rourke and the Editorial Staff
May 21, 2020