NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Expanded guidelines around nursing home visits in New York went into effect Friday.
Still, many facilities say the rules make it nearly impossible for residents to visit with their loved ones.READ MORE: New York Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker Gets Grilled At State Hearing On Nursing Home COVID Deaths
As CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon reports, 78-year-old Dominga Marina Marquez is a longtime resident of the New Jewish Home on the Upper West Side.
Due to COVID-19, she and many of her neighbors haven’t had visitors for nearly a year.
“This was so different. We felt a little lonely,” Marquez said.
The state says it is trying to change that. On Friday, expanded guidelines for visitors at nursing homes took effect. The Department of Health is providing free on-site rapid tests for nursing home visitors. In counties with less than a 5% positivity rate, a negative test is recommended but not required. Counties where the positivity rate is 5-10%, testing remains mandatory.
WEB EXTRA: Read New York’s Nursing Home Visitation Guidance (.pdf)
Despite the expanded guidelines, many nursing homes are frustrated – angry because the state did not eliminate an existing rule that requires facilities be free of COVID-19 for 14 days before any visits can take place.
“We’re testing hundreds of staff, twice a week, thousands per week. We’re going to have positive results,” said President and CEO of the New Jewish Home Dr. Jeffrey Farber.
Farber says positive tests are inevitable for large facilities. Still, he says with comprehensive testing, vaccinations, and adherence to safety requirements, he’s confident the facility can handle more visitors.
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“We can do this and we can do it safety, and I think the minuscule risk of bringing it into the facility are far outweighed by the benefits to our residents,” Farber said.
James Clyne agrees. He’s with Leading Age New York, which represents around 200 of the state’s nursing homes.
“We’re not suggesting that just open the doors and have unlimited visitation,” Clyne said. “We believe that there are ways that homes could be open to visitation and still keep the residents safe.”READ MORE: With Nursing Home Scandal Hanging Over His Administration, Gov. Cuomo Hits Road To Raise Awareness Of New Vaccine Sites
The Department of Health says due to the 14 day rules, just 194 of the state’s 610 nursing homes are currently eligible for visitors.
When CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon asked whether that rule may be eased in the future, the state would only say COVID-19 is still a risk and the rule is one way to keep it out of congregate settings.
The move comes as questions continue over the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing home deaths earlier in the pandemic.
“One of the most devastating aspects of this virus has been how it separated families from their loved ones,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said earlier this week.
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The state’s top health official was in the virtual hot seat Thursday facing intense questions from lawmakers.
“Yes there were deaths, too many,” said Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.
His testimony came two weeks after the attorney general alleged the administration undercounted deaths of nursing home residents by up to 50% by classifying thousands as having died in hospitals, not in nursing homes.
“We were the only state in the nation which counted nursing home deaths in that convoluted way,” State Sen. Jim Tedisco said during the hearing.
“It’s as though the administration continues every day to just be perfect and do nothing wrong,” State Sen. Gustavo Rivera added.
Zucker refused to admit any substantial missteps with the data or the controversial order for nursing homes to readmit resident recovering from COVID.
“There were 37,000 staff who had COVID and they brought it in inadvertently,” he said.
CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon and John Dias contributed to this report.MORE NEWS: Gov. Cuomo Calls For Nursing Home Reform, Stands By Administration's Reporting Of COVID Deaths