There’s a lot of “Johnny come lately” stuff going on regarding adult long-term care facilities in New York state.

COVID-19 has proven to be particularly challenging and deadly in nursing homes, prisons and other places where people are generally confined, often closely together, in large groups.

The disease is striking residents and employees of institutional facilities at an alarming rate. When the worst of this passes, there will be a need for further investigation into how the disease spread so rapidly in these places and, more importantly, how the owners and operators conducted themselves as the drama unfolded.

This week, Republican lawmakers in the state legislature joined former governor George Pataki in calling for a wide-scale investigation into nursing home deaths related to COVID-19, with an emphasis — of course — on how the administration of current governor Andrew Cuomo has handled it.

Let’s be clear: Nursing homes in New York have lacked quality oversight and inspection for many years. There’s ample evidence to suggest serious problems with institutional elder care since before Pataki himself was governor, and he left office in 2006.

Newspapers generally are well aware of the concerns about nursing home care because editors and reporters have been receiving complaints from concerned residents and their loved ones for years.

As is likely the case everywhere, in Niagara County, some nursing homes get higher marks than others for quality of care.

In the newsroom, it’s the horror stories that linger — the ones about residents with bed sores, or residents who were mistreated or even physically or verbally abused by staff, or, amazingly, the stories about staff members dealing drugs right outside a facility.

We don’t make these up. These are not “fake news.” These are the conditions described by people with firsthand knowledge of the goings-on in one facility or another who do not know where to turn to get their concerns addressed because nobody — not the owner, not the administrator and not the people who oversee health care facilities in New York — will listen or take action.

In recent weeks, news staffers have fielded a higher-than-normal volume of calls about the handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes in this community. The complaints were raised by family members and friends of people who live in these places. They have also come from some workers who say they did not have adequate supplies of masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment to help ward off and stop the spread of a devastating illness.

Again, where do they turn?

We’re confident in saying state senators, state assembly members and the governor’s office have been hearing concerns about nursing home care for many years. We know we have.

So, will another partisan probe lead to real change?

How many legislators are prepared to tell their leadership to stop accepting meetings with lobbyists representing deep-pocketed nursing home owners? Will they send back the campaign donations from those who own these facilities?

COVID-19 has laid bare a lot of issues with society and the way New York State operates.

It certainly has exacerbated longstanding concerns about how much of the money people pay for long-term care gets put back into the facilities themselves, for staffing, employee training, safeguards for residents and, in the case of this virus, adequate PPE for caregivers.

There’s plenty of improvement work needed where the monitoring of adult care facilities is concerned and we encourage all elected and appointed officials, from the governor on down, to turn their full attention to this matter once this pandemic subsides and there’s more time to fully focus.

The quality of care of elderly New Yorkers is not the governor’s problem. It’s not the Democrats’ or the Republicans’ problem. It’s not a partisan issue. It’s a matter of decency, plain and simple.

Recommended for you