New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law on Tuesday that repeals legal immunity that the state had granted to nursing homes during the pandemic.
Effective immediately, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities can be held civilly and criminally liable for treatment of individuals with COVID-19 after the bill was sponsored and championed by critics including Sen. Alessandra Biaggi.
The immunity had been granted last year under Article 30-D of the Public Health Law, known as the Emergency or Disaster Treatment Protection Act, as a part of last year’s budget while the virus spread through the state.
But the new bill states that it ‘repeals Article 30-D of the Public Health Law with the intent of holding health care facilities, administrators, and executives accountable for harm and damages incurred.’
Cuomo himself has faced calls to resign amid probes into whether the state mishandled nursing home deaths related to the pandemic and accusations that the state miscounted hundreds of nursing home deaths as hospital deaths.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law on Tuesday that repeals legal immunity that the state had granted to nursing homes during the pandemic
Effective immediately, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities can be held civilly and criminally liable for treatment of individuals with COVID-19
A view shows refrigerated trucks at Isabella Geriatric Center on Saturday, May 2, 2020 in New York City
New York State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, right, and Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, left, hug as demonstrators gather for a rally decrying New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes during the COVID-19 outbreak on March 25, 2021
Biaggi tweeted on Tuesday that the bill had been signed repealing immunity for nursing homes
‘#BREAKING: Governor Cuomo has signed S5177 into law to fully repeal the blanket immunity NY granted healthcare facilities and nursing homes,’ Biaggi tweeted on Tuesday.
‘Tonight I am thinking of those who lost loved ones in nursing homes. This moment is thanks to their tireless advocacy and persistence.’
In a justification for the bill, Biaggi wrote that ‘it is now apparent that negligence by administrators and executives of nursing homes has occurred to an extraordinary degree.’
‘Article 30-D egregiously uses severe liability standards as a means to insulate health care facilities and specifically, administrators and executives of such facilities, from any civil or criminal liability for negligence.’
The bill continues: ‘Repealing this article is a much-needed step to holding health care administrators accountable and doing everything possible to stop more preventable deaths from happening.’
Lawmakers had already rolled back some of the protections that had been granted to healthcare workers last year, the New York Daily News reported. At the time, the state had allowed lawsuits and prosecutions unrelated to COVID-19 to continue.
New York Attorney General Letitia James in January found that the Cuomo administration had allegedly misled the public about the total number of nursing home residents killed by the pandemic.
James’ report also concluded that ‘resident deaths associated with nursing homes in New York state appear to be undercounted by DOH by approximately 50 percent.’
Health Commissioner Howard Zucker then released a general tally after James issued her report – noting that there have been 12,743 confirmed and presumed deaths of nursing home residents in both nursing homes and hospitals as of January 19.
‘But who cares [if they] died in the hospital, died in a nursing home? They die,’ Cuomo callously said during a news conference after the revelation.
In a justification for the bill , Biaggi wrote that ‘it is now apparent that negligence by administrators and executives of nursing homes has occurred to an extraordinary degree’
Cuomo faces a federal probe into how his administration handled the coronavirus pandemic in New York nursing homes
Medical workers attend to a patient outside Harlem Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation where at least 20 bodies had been seen removed during coronavirus pandemic despite state data only showing five COVID-19 deaths last May
Calls have since surfaced asking Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to issue a referral to James’ office for a joint state probe in addition to the federal one
The Cuomo administration had only acknowledged 8,711 residents who had died in the nursing homes until James’ report was released.
The concerns had kicked off after the Empire Center for Public Policy, a watchdog group, had filed a Freedom of Information Law request – and then a lawsuit when the state did not comply with the request – asking for totals of all deaths regardless of whether the nursing home resident died at the facility or at a hospital.
Albany Supreme Court Justice Kimberly O’Connor later issued a 16-page decision ordering the state Department of Health to provide the records and pay their legal costs.
Cuomo has been rocked after top aide Melissa DeRosa confessed that that the administration deliberately hid data on nursing home COVID deaths in the midst of a Justice Department investigation into their handling of the pandemic.
DeRosa admitted that officials ‘froze’ when former President Donald Trump’s Justice Department had also asked for the data, before rebuffing the request.
‘We were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice, or what we give to you guys, what we start saying, was going to be used against us while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation,’ DeRosa told lawmakers.
Attorney General Letitia James, left, issued an alarming report in January that the Health Department had under-counted deaths associated with nursing homes. Health Comissioner Howard Zucker, right, has since released a general tally
The bill notes that the repeal was recommended by James in her report.
‘As written, the immunity laws could be wrongly used to provide any individual or entity from liability, even if those decisions were not made in good faith or motivated by financial incentives,’ the report read.
In her report, James also alluded to claims that ‘for-profit nursing home operators had a financial incentive to accept coronavirus patients and then not offer adequate care because the immunity shield was in place,’ Gothamist reported.
George Pataki, the former Governor of New York, has previously said the state should look at creating laws to recall Cuomo after his administration was accused of hiding the true number of COVID-19 nursing home deaths.
Pataki, who was NY governor from 1995 to 2006 suggested that the state has lost confidence in Cuomo in the wake of the scandal.
A man with a mask stands behind a sign advertising the Sapphire Center nursing home after reports of a number of deaths there came to light during an ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus disease in Brooklyn last April
Emergency Medical Technicians wheel a man out of the Cobble Hill Health Center nursing home during an ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus disease in the Brooklyn borough of New York last April
Currently, New York does not have a procedure to allow for the recall of an elected official and creating one would require a constitutional amendment bill passed in successive years.
Republican Pataki, 75, told the New York Post: ‘I think it would be appropriate to take a hard look at that.’
‘I only think it should be used in extraordinary cases but when you really have lost confidence in the leadership in your state, I think the opportunity should exist for the majority of the people to say we want something different,’ Pataki said.
Calls have since surfaced asking Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to issue a referral to James’ office for a joint state probe in addition to the federal one, the Daily News reported.
Cuomo’s office has also argued that several other states have made similar moves during the pandemic. Just two weeks ago, the Kansas City Star reported that state lawmakers had sent a biklll to the desk of Gov. Laura Kelly that would grant immunity to nursing homes from most COVID-19 related lawsuits.