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CNY state senator responds to criticism over NY’s nursing home response

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Onondaga County Clerk Lisa Dell holds up a picture of her mother, who lives in an assisted living facility. She spoke at a news conference held by Sam Rodgers, who is running for State Senate against State Sen. Rachel May (D-Syracuse).

Family members in central New York are telling their stories about how they’ve been negatively impacted by the state’s response to nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. A candidate for State Senate is amplifying those voices and criticizing one local state senator.

Republican Sam Rodgers said state Sen. Rachel May, who is chair of the Senate Aging Committee, did not speak out against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s March 25 mandate, which required nursing homes take recovering COVID-19 patients from hospitals.

“You didn’t use your authority as chair to prevent, aid or stop the fire that had unleashed in nursing homes,” Rodgers said.

A month and a half later, that mandate was reversed. Rodgers is also calling on May to use her subpoena powers to figure out how many people who lived in nursing homes, ended up dying at a hospital, which is still unclear. The state has only been counting nursing home deaths of those who died on nursing home property. But experts say the number could be significantly higher than the 6,600 deaths being reported.

At a press conference last week, Onondaga County Clerk Lisa Dell talked about her mother, who has been living in an assisted living facility for years. Under current guidelines, nursing homes cannot open to visitors unless they have been COVID free for 28 days.

“I want to see my mom again, to advocate for her and make sure she is receiving the care and attention she deserves,” Dell said.

Senator May agrees with Dell. After months of no visitors, May said nursing home residents get depressed, stop eating and cognitively decline.

“Family members who are critical care givers, even in nursing homes, aren’t there to see if someone has an infection or some new problem, they would be the ones to flag that for the staff,” May said. “Without them there, there are a lot of illnesses or problems that people are having that would’ve been caught early.”

May said there needs to be a better policy. She pressed the health commissioner on this, and the Cuomo administration can change that regulation.

She said she’s going to keep demanding they get the information on nursing home deaths in hospitals. And that March 25 mandate, she said, was misguided, but understandable.

"It was a terrifying time, and the biggest fear was that we were going to have hospitals that were turning people away that had COVID-19,” May said.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.