Political leaders are under fire from many different sides for their bungling of the Coronavirus epidemic. New York made at least two critical mistakes in the past year, both of which were horrible in different ways. The first terrible decision was to send COVID-19 positive patients from hospitals to nursing homes in March 2020. At the time, the Governor said that he needed to clear hospital beds for COVID victims. Two months later, he rescinded the policy after more than 6,000 reported nursing home residents at 600 facilities died. The New York State Department of Health tried to argue that the Governor’s decision had no impact on nursing home deaths, an idea that medical experts and scientists quickly debunked.
New York’s second catastrophic decision was to undercount nursing home deaths and downplay the severity of the epidemic in its New York facilities. A probe by the state Attorney General Letitia James concluded that the New York Department of Health undercounted by as much as 50%. The report cited New York’s nursing homes’ failure to comply with infection control protocols and provide staff with personal protective equipment (PPE).
The question now isn’t what New York did, but instead, why did they do it? Why send sick, contagious patients into nursing homes that have a large senior population during a pandemic? And then why grossly undercount the mortality numbers of our seniors living in these facilities? Why would an otherwise politically astute and intelligent government official make such unwise choices? Our view, having been involved in cases involving nursing home abuse and neglect for more than two decades, is that these are further examples of systemic ageism.
So, what about that undercounting of deaths in these facilities? A death in a nursing home hardly counts as a death, right? The fact that the State of New York undercounted and underreported seniors’ deaths indicates that the government or its leaders did not value our seniors’ lives. New York and others made a series of terrible decisions that negatively impacted a specific segment of our society – our seniors. The elderly.
Covid in Nursing Homes and Ageism is a Growing Problem
Ageism is systemic, not just in New York, but everywhere in the United States. Our Government and Department of Public Health surveyors have failed to hold the long-term-care industry accountable for decades, allowing nursing home operators to put profit over good care at the cost of seniors’ dignity, health, and their lives.
The sort of bad decision-making that occurred in New York is not limited to a single political party or a single state. The deeper issue is that we need to obliterate ageism from government systems and businesses altogether. We need to do considerably more to protect the lives of our most vulnerable population.
Not valuing our seniors is a form of disrespect (and age bias) and this must change. The issue isn’t just underreporting; the real problem is not valuing (thus not respecting) our elders. The real issue is ageism.
Attorney Wendy York of York Law Firm specializes in prosecuting elder abuse, nursing home abuse and wrongful death cases in California. For further information, please contact Wendy York at York Law Firm.