FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  Thursday, April 23, 2020

Disability Rights Advocates Call on Governor Cuomo to Take Immediate Action to Save the Lives of Residents in Nursing Facilities

(Albany, NY) Governor Cuomo today offered the State’s response to the growing death toll in Nursing facilities across the State. A woefully inadequate contribution that centered on placing the responsibility for the safety of the disabled and older New Yorkers on the overcrowded and understaffed institutions themselves. 

A coalition of disability rights advocates and allies, including New York Association on Independent Living, New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, Mental Health Association of New York State and Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Association of New York State, is releasing a letter tomorrow calling on Governor Cuomo to make changes that would allow nursing facility residents and others in state institutions to leave with services and supports.  Fatalities in nursing homes and adult homes make up 25% of all fatalities in New York State due to the coronavirus, and although Governor Cuomo took initial steps today to address this, advocates feel he and his administration need to do much more.  Social distancing is being used to flatten the curve, but older and disabled residents in New York nursing facilities continue to be denied that opportunity to save their own lives.

“If this were a fire, the first thing we would do is scramble to get people out and save their lives,” said Bruce Darling, CEO of the Center for Disability Rights. “Our nursing facilities are basically on fire.  We need to get their residents out of harm’s way.”

New York State has the ability to do that.  Advocates are proposing that the state instruct social service districts and managed care organizations to immediately authorize Medicaid home care services for any nursing facility resident who could go home with their family.  The state is being urged to use Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Services to meet the needs of these individuals, allowing family members to be paid to care for their loved ones while the individual self-quarantines in their home. 

For those who don’t have a family home to return to, advocates want to work with the state to use FEMA funding.  “FEMA funds are being used to house homeless individuals in hotels and dormitories which are not being used right now, there is no reason we can’t do the same thing here to save the lives of nursing facility residents,” said Lindsay Miller, Executive Director of the New York Association on Independent Living.  Advocates, in fact, had a call with FEMA representatives today to discuss the proposal and how to access FEMA funds. They are also working with local officials such as Monroe County Executive Adam Bello to implement similar plans, but they feel the need is statewide and therefore requires the Governor’s support and coordination from the state to be effective.

In addition to emergency evacuations for those who are able to transition, the coalition is calling on the state to provide emergency state aid and assistance to the nursing homes and other congregate facilities, in the form of trained emergency personnel and PPE.

“There is much more the State can do to ensure the safety of disabled and older New Yorkers and the time is now,” said Douglas Hovey President and Chief Executive Officer of Independent Living, Inc.

The coalition also pointed out that the State cannot be held harmless in the high death rate we are seeing in the State’s nursing facilities.

“The Governor talked about ‘facts.’ We welcome a fact-based conversation; but, as the saying goes, the Governor is entitled to his own opinions; but not his own facts. The facts say we cannot get people out of institutions because the state has broken the alternative through a combination of funding cuts and attacks on the workforce,” said Bryan O’Malley, Executive Director of the Consumer Director Personal Assistance Association of New York State.

O’Malley continued, “The fact is, community-based services like consumer directed personal assistance and home care have been starved by the state for a decade. The fact is, instead of raising revenues by making billionaires pay, we cut the services that could have helped lessen this crisis and ignored experts when they told of shortages. Now the facts leave us a choice - we can leave disabled and older New Yorkers in institutions, where people are advised to choose a funeral home upon admission, or we can reinvest in community-based services and provide them the only real means we have to prevent their death at the hands of this virus. The choice seems clear."