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Republicans question NY COVID-19 policy at OPWDD group homes

Sen. Mike Martucci, R-Orange, said transparency has been a major failing of the Cuomo administration.
New York State Senate
Sen. Mike Martucci, R-Orange, said transparency has been a major failing of the Cuomo administration.

Republicans in the New York State Senate claimed Friday that policies enacted by the state during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic may have put residents at group homes for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities at risk of contracting the coronavirus. 

The group of Republicans likened the policy, which is still in effect, to one that was briefly enacted at nursing homes, where some believe the change may have led to more deaths.

The policy at group homes, according to a memo from the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, has been to require those facilities to admit residents discharged from the hospital regardless of their COVID-19 status.

Administrators at group homes also aren’t allowed to test incoming residents for COVID-19 as a condition of admission, according to the policy.

The policy only applies to individuals deemed to be asymptomatic, or not showing symptoms of the disease. But the policy also allows group homes to admit symptomatic individuals, so long as they have the resources to care for them and prevent them from infecting others.

The lawmakers compared that to a similar policy enacted last March at nursing homes, which were then required to admit COVID-positive individuals from hospitals, as long as they could isolate them from others and provide necessary care for those individuals. The policy was later amended to require a negative COVID-19 test for admission.

In a letter to OPWDD Commissioner Dr. Theodore Kastner, the Republican lawmakers requested a detailed breakdown of COVID-19 data at group homes and copies of all internal correspondence related to the enactment of the policy.

Sen. Mike Martucci, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Disabilities Committee, said he hoped the agency would provide that information to lawmakers quickly, rather than delaying it as the state Department of Health did with data on nursing homes.

“Transparency has been a major failing of this administration at all levels. I’m hopeful that they have finally learned their lesson and will provide the information we are requesting and provide it quickly,” Martucci said.

The Cuomo administration is currently under fire from a series of fronts, including a decision to withhold data on how many nursing home residents died from COVID-19.

The state had previously publicly reported the number of nursing home residents who died from the disease within those facilities, but did not disclose how many nursing home residents died after being transferred to the hospital.

That changed last month after a report from the state Attorney General’s Office claimed that Cuomo’s office had undercounted deaths at nursing homes by as much as 50%.

The administration has since released updated data showing that more than 4,000 nursing home residents were transferred to the hospital before they died. Cuomo has said he regrets not being more transparent about the information earlier.

Republicans are hoping the administration will swiftly provide a detailed breakdown of COVID-19 data on people with intellectual and developmental disabilities living at group homes.

They’re also asking the state to loosen up visitation requirements at those facilities and provide more resources for administrators to purchase personal protective equipment.

Spokespeople for OPWDD and the Cuomo administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

Dan Clark is host/producer of New York Now.