In the light of the large representation of Jews in the nursing home industry, it behooves us all to pay careful attention to the fallout from the unexpectedly large numbers of corona- related deaths of residents in those facilities.

The possibility of serious institutional failures in particular facilities having occurred is what it is, but we are concerned about the risk of a Jewish face being put on these tragedies.

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This is not to suggest that Jews are inordinately responsible or would be targeted. It is only to remark on the fact that Jewish names are almost exclusively appearing in what are now largely anecdotal media accounts of the problem without any formal findings of responsibility.

What piques our concern is the incentive of government officials to deflect blame. Indeed, despite some persuasive indications that a plainly wrongheaded directive from his administration ordering nursing homes to admit coronavirus patients likely led to the crisis, Governor Andrew Cuomo has publicly rebuked nursing homes for the fatalities.

He has accused them of violating the directive after giving it a decidedly revisionist spin and tasked Attorney General Letitia James with leading an investigation into how nursing homes dealt with the crisis.

Consider the following:

From day one, it has been clear that the elderly were particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus both because of their age and the prevalence of underlying conditions in this population. Yet despite the necessarily close quarters in nursing homes, which of course are populated primarily by the elderly, the NYS Department of Health sent a directive – seemingly from Mars – to all nursing homes which, after citing the “urgent need to expand hospital capacity in New York State to be able to meet the demand for patients with COVID-19 requiring acute care,” declared that it was being issued “to clarify expectations for nursing homes (NHs) receiving residents returning from hospitalization and for NHs accepting new admissions.”

Incredibly, the directive then went on to say, in pertinent part:

No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the NH, solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19. NHs are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.

So regardless of whether or not a facility was equipped in terms of adequate quarantine space, staff, or protective gear or equipment to properly handle coronavirus residents, it could not deny them admission. Indeed, they were not even able to ask referring hospitals whether a patient being referred even had the virus. Their claims of inadequate capacity gained little traction.

However, as the number of coronavirus cases and related deaths continued to mount at alarming rates and the complaints of nursing homes began to draw larger attention, Governor Cuomo pushed back with an unusual reading of the directive. What it really meant to convey, he said, was that only if a nursing home is equipped to handle coronavirus patients does the directive kick in forcing them to do so. If it is not equipped, the home has the recourse of transferring these patients to a facility that is equipped.

Who decides whether a facility is adequately equipped, the governor didn’t say. But more fundamentally, where did the governor find this recourse in “No resident shall be denied…”?

At all events, if a nursing home that isn’t adequately equipped has to accept all referrals – including those who had the coronavirus – there will necessarily be some period of unaddressed exposure, thus endangering nursing home residents.

Further, news reports quote nursing home operators to the effect that they were said they were left hanging when they instinctively reached out to the Health Department for assistance in transferring coronavirus patients.

So we invite our readers to join us in monitoring the nursing home/coronavirus tragedy as more definitive information emerges to ensure that accusations don’t assume a life of their own.

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