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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who already face criticism for leading what some have described as the worst, most botched response to the coronavirus crisis, now face even more scrutiny over allegations health officials took no action after being warned that a nursing home was being overwhelmed and needed some patients to be transferred elsewhere.
According to multiple investigations, administrators at the nursing home in question, Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill Health Center, sent desperate emails to state Health Department officials in early April asking if some patients could be transferred to one of two field hospitals — one at the Javits Center and the other on the USNS Comfort.
“There is no way for us to prevent the spread under these conditions. Is there anything more we can do to protect our patients and staff?” the home’s CEO, Danny Tuchman, pleaded in one email dated April 8th, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal published Thursday.
“At the time Tuchman sent his plea, only 134 of the 1,000 beds at the Javits Center were full and the Comfort — which had just been reconfigured to treat up to 500 COVID-19 patients — had a mere 62 on board,” the New York Post added in its own report Friday.
By the time Cuomo announced during a briefing this Tuesday that the Comfort was no longer needed and would, therefore, be leaving sometime soon — perhaps as early as next week — for its base in Norfolk, Virginia, the Comfort had only treated 179 total patients.
This means there was always plenty of space onboard for Cobble Hill Health Center’s patients.
The USNS Comfort will depart New York City in the coming days and head back to its base in Virginia. Gov. Andrew Cuomo told President Trump that the Navy medical ship was no longer needed. pic.twitter.com/1hJCHyyfQh
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) April 22, 2020
All of this matters because Cobble Hill Health Center has been linked to numerous coronavirus deaths, and all presumably because of how overwhelmed the nursing home has been.
“Tuchman said some staff wore garbage bags for protection. Some worked 16-hour shifts. And at times, patients were dying so quickly that the center’s refrigerated storage was beyond capacity, forcing workers to rotate bodies in and out as they waited for space at funeral homes or morgues,” The Wall Street Journal has confirmed.
But instead of honoring the home’s request, state health officials reportedly emailed so-called “guidance on how to conserve supplies during a shortage, and a reminder to submit requests daily to New York City’s Office of Emergency Management.”
In response to questions from the Journal, a New York State Department of Health defended the department’s handling of the matter, saying it had acted quickly and aggressively to provide the home with guidance.
But the home never asked for guidance. It asked for a transfer of patients. It also reportedly asked for personal protective equipment.
“We’ve distributed PPE to Cobble Hill Health Center as part of our weekly routine PPE deliveries,” the spokesperson reportedly added.
But according to Tuchman, this too is somewhat of a false claim: “Mr. Tuchman said he got some PPE from the city, but not enough,” the Journal reported.
Tuchman also faced problems dealing with New York City officials as well, according to the Post: “Tuchman said Cobble Hill had been asking the city’s Office of Emergency Management ‘daily’ for more gowns, but ‘gotten only a few hundred delivered.'”
“There is no way for us to prevent the spread under these conditions,” he reportedly wrote on April 8th. “Is there anything more we can do to protect our patients and staff? Thank you for any help you could be.”
He reportedly received a response 20 minutes later that contained nothing but guidance on how to conserve PPE.
These findings come amid reports that by Wednesday, over 3,500 nursing home and adult-care facility patients had died from the coronavirus in New York. At least 55 died at Cobble Hill Health Center, despite a much-appreciated effort by the home’s staff:
Tonight we joined @CobbleHillAssoc & neighbors to cheer the courageous & hardworking staff of the Cobble Hill Health Center, caring for our elders in an unimaginable time.
— Brad Lander (@bradlander) April 20, 2020
They also come amid a growing backlash against Cuomo and de Blasio, with Reason magazine declaring outright that the state has “botched the coronavirus response” with “false promises” and “inaccurate health information.”
Cuomo appears to be in denial, for his part.
“New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said nursing home patients are among the most vulnerable, and his team was trying to help centers get supplies and staff,” the Journal noted. “His team said the state had sent nursing homes hundreds of thousands of pieces of protective equipment in the past two weeks.”
The evidence emerging from Cobble Hill Health Center suggests otherwise. As of Saturday, the home had suffered more coronavirus deaths than any other nursing home in the state.
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