ALBANY — A lawmaker who has led the push for stronger protections for nursing home residents said Wednesday he is building support for a measure that would provide grieving families with greater financial compensation if a senior citizen dies from inadequate care.

Assemblyman Ron Kim, D-Queens, the chairman of the Assembly Committee on Aging, told CNHI that the state's current law is flawed because it allows compensation to be based on the potential future earnings of the person who has died.

VALUE OF A LIFE

Kim said the nursing home industry would be motivated to improve the quality of care provided to residents if the compensation took into account the trauma suffered by a family as well as the loss of "intergenerational knowledge" when an older relative dies while experiencing poor care.

"I feel passionate about amending the wrongful death statute in the state of New York," Kim said. "Unless we change the monetary value of an older person's life, the nursing home industry is not going to care about killing people."

CUOMO POLICY

Kim and other critics of the state government's policies during the pandemic, such as Fox News personality Janice Dean, argue that thousands of New York nursing home patients may have died at the homes due to a state Health Department order, issued March 25, 2020, directing those facilities to accept COVID-19 patients from hospitals.

The policy was enacted to allow hospitals to absorb a surge in admissions last year while infections were spiking across the state.

While that order was put in place during the former Cuomo administration, Kim said there are indications that state officials at the time were acquiescing to the recommendations made by the health care industry.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo had defended the policy numerous times, contending the Health Department's research had indicated clusters of nursing home infections resulted after the virus was brought to the facilities by employees.

While stopping short of commenting directly on the controversial directive, Cuomo's successor, Gov. Kathy Hochul, told reporters Wednesday she apologized to Kim and Dean at a private meeting in New York City. The death of Kim's uncle in a nursing home has been linked to COVID-19, and the parents of Dean's husband both lost their lives at nursing homes after testing positive for the virus.

“I apologized for the pain those poor families had to endure,” the governor said. “It was a very emotional meeting.”

Last November, a Cuomo aide attacked advocates of nursing home patients who were critical of the state policies as a "death cult."

TO DELIVER JUSTICE

Following the sit-down with the state's new chief executive, Dean said in a prepared statement: "Governor Hochul has a tremendous opportunity to expose Andrew Cuomo's wrongdoings while taking our state in the right direction. I hope she will continue working with us to deliver justice."

Kim argued Wednesday that state laws and policies have been designed to protect the profits of the health care industry at the expense of public health.

One upstate leader, Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin, questioned the sincerity of what he argued was a tardy apology from Hochul.

"She sat there silently as Cuomo's lieutenant governor, not uttering a peep when this was going on," McLaughlin said. "When you see something that is deadly and wrong, you take a stand. I did. She didn't."

In calling for a thorough inquiry into the pandemic's toll on New York nursing home patients, Kim has a strong ally in the form of legislative Republicans.

STATE INVESTIGATION

Senate GOP Leader Rob Ortt, R-Niagara County, said: "Gov. Hochul’s apology to Andrew Cuomo’s nursing home victims is a long overdue step toward showing empathy to the families of the thousands who lost their lives. Now, it is essential that the new administration follow through by joining our bipartisan calls for an independent state investigation into the disgraced Cuomo administration’s March 25 nursing home order and subsequent coverup. Families still deserve justice.”

The Assembly Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, is expected to issue a report soon on the Cuomo impeachment inquiry it launched in March. That confidential probe is expected to include a review of the undercount of nursing home deaths from COVID, as well as a $5.1 million publishing deal Cuomo secured for his "leadership lessons" memoir about the pandemic.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have also been looking into the book deal and other scandals involving Cuomo.

Assemblyman Angelo Morinello, R-Niagara Falls, said reports from the Judiciary Committee and the U.S. Attorney's office could offer a guidepost into the policies New York needs to address nursing homes.

"A plan for going forward cannot be made until we have a full understanding of the cause," said Morinello, a former judge.

Kim said Hochul's willingness to meet with him and other advocates for nursing home residents reflects a noteworthy change in direction from what he called the Cuomo administration's "dismissive" approach to those who questioned state policies.

The assemblyman said Hochul "inherited a really broken care system for the elderly," but has now indicated she plans to have a lengthy meeting with the physician recruited to take over the state Department of Health, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, to spur improvements at the agency.

The health department plays a major role in enforcing regulations and standards at nursing homes.

— Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jgmahoney31@gmail.com

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