One of the great tragedies, among many, of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s attempt to use the Wuhan virus as a way of getting federal dollars to fill an $6 billion in his state budget was his decision that nursing home residents were expendable.
In March, as Cuomo and his braintrust were running about like beheaded chickens shouting about models and Italy, his administration issued an order that required nursing homes to accept hospital patients recovering from Wuhan virus even if those patients were still contagious. The ostensible reason was moving recovering patients to nursing homes freed up hospital beds to treat the Wuhan created carnage. The problem, of course, was that a) there was no great influx of patients, b) nursing homes, already struggling with problems related to infections, were monumentally unsuited to caring for possibly contagious patients, and c) nursing homes are packed with the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. When challenged, this is how Cuomo responded:
But in New York, the controversy over the mandate has escalated as the virus has battered hospitals and nursing homes alike: The state not only has more coronavirus cases than anywhere in the country, but also the highest number of known long-term care deaths — at least 3,500 — related to the virus, according to the state health department. A broad swath of nursing homes across the state have already accepted COVID-positive hospital patients in compliance with the mandate, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has openly criticized facilities for opposing it.
“They don’t have a right to object. That is the rule and that is the regulation, and they have to comply with that,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a Thursday news conference. “If they can’t do it, we’ll put them in a facility that can do it.”
With one order, Cuomo turned places of refuge and healing into death camps. So, in a backhanded sort of way, Cuomo was absolutely correct when he proclaimed “God did not do that…That’s how it works. It’s math.” The slaughter in New York’s nursing homes was not an act of God, it was a cold-blooded calculation that the beds occupied by the people in nursing homes were more valuable if the current user was dead. At the same time, to tamp down the scandal, New York has been counting nursing home patients who die in hospitals, like after they were sent there when contracting Wuhan under Cuomo’s policy, as hospital deaths rather than nursing home deaths as they did in the past. This has caused a call for investigation into the policy and outcomes. See these two posts by my colleague Nick Arama for more details:
Today, in Cuomo’s press conference, he was challenged on his decision to sacrifice the elderly and the sick on the altar of a model of the progress of the virus that has been proven unreliable at every stage of the way. The video is cued to the exchange below.
Q. What do you say to families inside of nursing homes and they are looking for accountability? They would like to see justice. For example, I just interviewed a family of three siblings. They’ve had two nursing home losses within a few weeks of one another on two separate floors of the same facility here in Albany. They felt so much solace when you got up and talked about Matilda’s Law. They said, “great, we’re protected,” our loved ones are going to be okay because of Matilda’s Law. And then their loved ones passed away because they couldn’t get the testing. So they are looking for accountability and they feel that they were failed. What’s the comment to that?
CUOMO: Yeah. The comment is this, and I have those conversations all day long, with people who’ve lost people, right? We lost 139 people yesterday in hospitals. Who is accountable for those 139 deaths? How do we get justice for those families who had 139 deaths? What is justice? Who can we prosecute for those deaths? Nobody. Nobody. Mother Nature? God? Where did this virus come from? People are going to die by this virus. That is the truth. Best hospital system on the globe, I believe we have. Best doctors, best nurses, who have responded like heroes. Every medication, ventilators, the health system wants for nothing. We worked it out so we always had available beds. No one was deprived of a medical bed or coverage in any way. And still people died. Still people died. Older people, vulnerable people, are going to die from this virus. That is going to happen. Despite whatever you do. Because with all of our progress as a society, we can’t keep everyone alive. Despite everything you do. And older people are more vulnerable. And that is a fact and that is not going to change…Why do people die? Who is accountablie?….
Q. [Inaudible] feel that if the mandates were currently in place right now, that we’ve all been talking about in here, were in place from the get-go, they feel that their loved ones might still be here.
CUOMO: I don’t…look people rationalize death in different ways. I don’t think there is any logical rationale to say they would be alive today….
There are several points to be made about the issue and Cuomo’s response.
First, there was never any logical reason for forcing contagious Wuhan patients into nursing homes particularly given the skill, staffing, and sanitation issues that are well documented. This was especially true when the cavernous Javits Center was not used and when it became glaringly obvious that the massive rush of Wuhan sufferers to hospitals was not going to take place. At best the policy was just stupid and ill-considered. At its worst it amounted to a premeditated decision to let the most vulnerable just die.
Second, the question is not an abstract ‘what is the meaning of life’ question that philosophers ponder. It wasn’t why do some people die despite having the best of care. It was one of holding to account the people who decided that putting the most vulnerable needlessly at risk instead of taking positive actions to protect them.
While it may be true that older and medically compromised people are more at risk of dying, what does not flow from that observation is that it was wise or moral to put them at needless risk for the sake of responding to an ephemeral threat.
I think Cuomo’s laissez-faire attitude is not just a gaffe, it is the policy of the state of New York that if you are old or sick that they will cheerfully kill you to make a political point.