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County calls for study on nursing home virus deaths

Gloversville 4th Ward Supervisor Charles Potter, center, on Monday reads a letter from state Sen. James Tedisco thanking the Fulton County Board of Supervisors for its support of his legislation calling for an independent commission to study COVID-19-related nursing home deaths. The letter was read at the board's monthly meeting at the County Office Building in Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — Fulton County is the first county in New York state to formally call for an independent state probe of nursing home COVID-19 deaths.

The county Board of Supervisors on Monday passed a resolution urging the state Legislature to establish a temporary commission to study and investigate the effects of the COVID-19 response related to nursing home fatalities.

The board passed a resolution at its monthly meeting at the County Office Building.

Gloversville 4th Ward Supervisor Charles Potter also read a statement from Republican state Sen. James Tedisco thanking Fulton County legislators for their support.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has stated publicly in recent weeks that the criticism he has received from nursing homes during the pandemic is politicized.

But local state legislators in a bipartisan fashion — are calling for an investigation. Democratic state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara has said New York state owes it to the COVID families in nursing homes who suffered fatalities “to get the answers.”

Supervisors noted the state coronavirus death toll in New York state nursing Homes to be an estimated 6,500-7,000 —“likely a significant undercount.”

The county resolution stated: “The inordinately high mortality rates to a very vulnerable population indicates that there is a need to examine the state policies that led to poor outcomes in combating the COVID-19 virus.” It urges the state Legislature to pass Senate Bill S. 8756 (Tedisco) and companion Assembly Bill A.10857 (Kim). It would establish a temporary independent bi-partisan commission to study and investigate the effects of the state’s COVID-19 response on nursing home deaths.

The proposed commission will consist of members appointed by the majority and minority leaders in each respective state Legislature house, along with a member appointed by the state Attorney General’s Office The commission will have subpoena power and will make a report of its findings and recommendations and remain in effect for one year.

Potter read a statement from Tedisco — Fulton County’s state senator — applauding the county as first in the state to call for an unbiased, bi-partisan investigation with subpoena power into deaths of thousands of New Yorkers from COVID-19 in state-regulated nursing homes and bring closure to loved ones, help prepare for a second wave of virus.

Tedisco stated: “As I’ve said before, some issues transcend partisan politics. The families of the thousands of New Yorkers who lost their lives from COVID-19 while in state-regulated nursing homes deserve a measure of closure and we need to help prepare for a second wave of the virus or a future pandemic. I want to thank the Fulton County Board of Supervisors for their bi-partisan leadership in being the first county legislature in the state to support for my own bi-partisan legislation with Majority Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim and members from both sides of the aisle for an independent, bi-partisan state commission with subpoena power to fully investigate the deaths of thousands of New Yorkers who died from COVID-19 in nursing homes.”

“It’s well past time to give family members answers and bring closure to the loved ones of the thousands of New Yorkers who lost their lives in nursing homes during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Tedisco stated.

The county’s Fulton Center for Rehabilitation and Health Care was a site of an outbreak of many COVID-19 cases and deaths earlier this year.

As of Monday, Fulton County had 320 positive COVID-19 cases, with 28 deaths reported, according to the state Department of Health.

Earlier this year, the Fulton Center had an outbreak of coronavirus cases and it has remained the largest location of positive-tested persons in the county. At one point, county officials said 111 Fulton Center residents and 24 Fulton Center staff had tested positive.

The state Health Department on July 6 released a report, that found the spread of coronavirus in New York nursing homes was a result of infected staff members. The New York State Nurses Association, nevertheless, is calling for an independent investigation.

DOH’s 33-page analysis of nursing home data found COVID-19 fatalities in nursing homes were related to infected nursing home staff. According to a DOH news release, the virus spread was widely “unknowingly” caused by staff in New York state’s nursing homes. This is according to the report titled, “Factors Associated with Nursing Home Infections and Fatalities in New York State During the COVID-19 Global Health Crisis.”

New York state has about 100,000 nursing home residents housed in 613 nursing home facilities statewide.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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