California Relaxed Directive Requiring Nursing Homes to Take Coronavirus Patients

Gavin Newsom (Carolyn Cole-Pool / Getty)
Carolyn Cole-Pool / Getty

The State of California relaxed a directive that required nursing homes to accept coronavirus patients — a policy that, critics say, led to unnecessary risks, if not infections, in New York and New Jersey, which have similar directives.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been criticized over the past week — thanks largely to conservative radio host Mark Levin and to the New York Post, and to reporting in their wake by the New York Times — for New York State’s directive.

The New York directive read, in part (original emphasis): “No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the NH [nursing home] solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19. NHs are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.”

Nursing homes account for a disproportionate share of coronavirus deaths in New York and other states — a fact that partly reflects the vulnerability of the elderly to the illness, but which, critics say, may also be a result of the nursing home policy.

Cuomo has argued that the nursing homes had a duty to transfer patients to other facilities or to warn the state department of health if they could not care for coronavirus patients. On Monday, he suggested that nursing homes had been reluctant to lose the money associated with admitting patients with coronavirus. Asked whether coronavirus patients could have been transferred to the USNS Comfort instead, Cuomo claims that federal policy prevented nursing homes from doing so.

The New York Times reported last week that California, New York, and New Jersey had similar policies, while Connecticut and Massachusetts adopted a different approach by designating certain nursing home facilities for coronavirus-only patients.

The Los Angeles Times reported April 1: “California regulators have told skilled nursing facility operators that they must accept patients even if they have the disease,” with critics of the policy calling it “akin to premeditated murder.”

But National Public Radio reported last week that California relaxed its policy after protests were heeded (original emphasis):

New York and New Jersey both have ordered nursing homes to admit patients regardless of their COVID-19 status. California had a similar directive. And then suddenly, as of March 30, it didn’t. After a couple of days of outcry from the medical community, the state softened its instruction.

It now says that a nursing home “can be expected” to receive residents who test positive for the virus if it is able to follow the infection control guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Critics are still upset with California’s policy, calling it “a recipe for disaster,” but it does seem to have been softened.

The original California directive, dated March 30, stated: “SNFs [skilled nursing facilities] shall not refuse to admit or readmit a resident based on their status as a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case.”

The most recent version, dated April 24, states: “SNFs can be expected to accept a resident diagnosed with COVID-19 and who is still requiring transmission-based precautions for COVID-19 as long as the facility can follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) infection prevention and control recommendations for the care of COVID-19 patients, including adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE).”

The reason given for the California directive, as elsewhere, is that state officials were concerned about running out of capacity in hospitals. However, both Southern California and the New York/New Jersey metro regions had federal assistance in expanding hospital beds — both in the form of U.S. Navy hospital ships and U.S. Army/National Guard field hospitals.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, is available for pre-order. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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