New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled a requirement for hospital patients to test negative for the coronavirus before they can be discharged to nursing homes, effectively reversing a much-criticized state policy that required long-term care facilities to accept recovering patients who may still test positive for COVID-19.
Cuomo, a Democrat, announced the change Sunday, along with a requirement for all New York nursing homes and adult care facilities to test staff members for COVID-19 twice a week and report positive cases to the state.
"We're just not going to send a person who is positive to a nursing home after a hospital visit. Period," he said during a news conference Sunday.
Citing "an urgent need to expand hospital capacity," New York state issued a blanket rule on March 25 requiring nursing homes to admit new or returning residents regardless of their COVID-19 status. The guidance also prohibited the facilities from testing patients before admission. New Jersey and California have implemented similar requirements.
After a Long Island nursing home was required to take recovering COVID-19 patients under the state policy, an outbreak of the virus killed at least 24 residents — only three of whom had been transferred from hospitals, an NBC News investigation found.
Cuomo denied that the change was a policy reversal, saying nursing homes could have contacted state officials at any time if they were not equipped to care for infected residents who wanted to be admitted.
"It was their obligation to inform, and it is their obligation to call the Department of Health and say, ‘You have to come get this person. I can't care for them.' That has always been the case," he said. Nursing homes still cannot require that incoming residents be tested; it is the hospitals that will now require the testing before discharging patients to nursing homes.
Cuomo added that hospital capacity is no longer a pressing concern, as it was in the earlier days of the pandemic.
"We've always had more hospital beds available than we've used — always. There has not been a day that we didn't have more beds available than we've used," Cuomo said.
Industry groups applauded the state's change on the mandate, which they had fiercely opposed.
"In order to further protect our residents and staff, we are grateful that hospitals can no longer discharge new patients into nursing homes that have tested positive or were suspected to have COVID-19," Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association and the New York State Center for Assisted Living, which represent long-term care facilities, said in a statement Sunday. "The state's action today acknowledges the concerns providers voiced."
But the groups also called for state and federal officials to provide greater resources — including assistance from the state's National Guard and $10 billion in federal funding — to help nursing homes meet the new testing requirements for staff members.
"Without immediate and urgently needed funding, nursing homes are at a significant disadvantage in responding to this unprecedented health crisis," Hanse said.