Tuesday, May 26, 2020

He who pays the piper drafts the legislation

The Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA), a powerful healthcare industry group,  gave more than $1m to a Democratic committee backing Governor Andrew Cuomo 2018 campaignLess than two years later, Cuomo signed legislation last month quietly shielding hospital and nursing home executives from the threat of lawsuits stemming from the coronavirus outbreak. The provision, inserted into an annual budget bill by Cuomo’s aides, created one of the nation’s most explicit immunity protections for healthcare industry officials, according to legal experts.  Cuomo removed a key deterrent against nursing home and hospital corporations cutting corners in ways that jeopardize lives and where  more than 5,000 New Yorkers have died from COVID-19.

Cuomo’s critics say he has taken a hands-off approach to regulating the healthcare industry interests that helped bankroll his election campaign. In March, Cuomo’s administration issued an order that allowed nursing homes to readmit sick patients without testing them for Covid-19. Amid allegations of undercounted casualties, the governor also pushed back against pressure to have state regulators more stringently record and report death rates in nursing homes.

And then came Cuomo’s annual budget – which included a little-noticed passage shielding corporate officials who run New York hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities from liability for Covid-related deaths and injuries. The carefully sculpted passage was buried in the state’s annual spending bill expanded that by offering extensive immunity to any “healthcare facility administrator, executive, supervisor, board member, trustee or other person responsible for directing, supervising or managing a healthcare facility and its personnel or other individual in a comparable role”.

GNYHA  said it “drafted and aggressively advocated for” the immunity provision. The new law declares that top officials at hospital and nursing home companies “shall have immunity from any liability, civil or criminal, for any harm or damages alleged to have been sustained as a result of an act or omission in the course of arranging for or providing healthcare services” to address the Covid-19 outbreak. 

The language immunizing executives from civil and criminal litigation is designed to make it easier for nursing home corporations to profit off unsafe business practices.

 “The reason why neglect happens in nursing homes is executives make business decisions that result in the frontline workers not having the tools – in nursing homes, the manpower – to deliver the services those workers are trained to deliver,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Andrew G Finkelstein, “These executives choose how much staffing will be in a nursing home and they know the more staffing that they put in, the more safe the nursing home will be – but the less profits they will make.” 

During his re-election campaign, Cuomo promised that he would support requiring hospitals and nursing homes to spend more on staffing, which proponents said would improve healthcare and safety, but could also reduce corporate profit margins. The governor subsequently only initiated a study of the issue – a move that the nursing home industry’s lobbying group lauded.

Andrew Cuomo has appeared on CNN facing some soft-ball questioning from none other than his own brother, Chris Cuomo, and MSNBC has performed little better in holding Governor Cuomo accountable.


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