The city and state severely shortchanged a federally-mandated program designed to protect nursing home residents, leading to the disproportionate death toll of elderly New Yorkers from the coronavirus, according to an alarming new report by City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
The investigation found that New York City has just one full-time ombudsman for every 8,650 long-term care residents when national guidelines dictate one watchdog for every 2,000 people.
There are only six watchdogs assigned to visit the city’s 50,000 residents across 244 facilities. In Queens, a single ombudsman assisted by nine volunteers is responsible for watching over 17,000 residents in 84 facilities. Over 20,000 residents in 80 long-term care facilities across the five boroughs have no assigned ombudsman.
The state ranked 40th nationally in full-time ombudsmen per bed in 2018.
Mayor Bill de Blasio contributed $0 to five years of funding for the program in 2017 and Gov. Andrew Cuomo contributed just $600,000 for the city. The lowball amount works out to $7.34 per resident bed while the rest of the nation spends more than twice that on the program, according to the report.
“This investigation is heartbreaking, especially as New York City continues to battle the global COVID-19 pandemic that has devastated our parents and grandparents in long-term care facilities,” Stringer said.
“Tragically our failure to support long-term care can be measured in human suffering amid the pandemic. The disproportionately high number of COVID-19 deaths among our long-term care facility residents must be a wake-up call,” he added.
The ombudsmen identify abuse and neglect in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, but have been barred along with other visitors from checking in on residents during the coronavirus pandemic.
State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) has asked the governor to connect residents to ombudsmen through the telephone and email during the crisis.
Of the state’s nearly 25,000 coronavirus deaths, 6,208 were nursing home residents, about half of those fatalities were in New York City facilities.
Stringer recommends increasing city and state funding to at least $2.5 million annually to provide for a full-time ombudsman for every 2,000 nursing home residents.
Reps for de Blasio and Cuomo did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
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