New York Vigils Demand Protection for Nursing Home Staff, Residents

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Socially distanced and virtual vigils are taking place at nursing homes across New York state. Photo credit: NY Caring Majority.

NEW YORK — Seniors, community, faith and labor leaders joined in vigils at nursing homes over the Memorial Day weekend to demand more protections for workers and residents.

So far in the pandemic, New York nursing homes have seen more than 5,800 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths. People in the dozens of virtual and socially distanced vigils held simultaneously at nursing homes from Long Island to Albany have issued a list of demands, including paid sick leave and enhanced pay for workers, and options for nursing home residents to move to safer settings.

Bobbie Sackman, a member and leader of the group New York Caring Majority, said Gov. Andrew Cuomo needs to preserve funding that helps keep people safe.

“We demand that the governor must stop his ill-timed cuts to the Medicaid program,” she said. “This is devastating home care, at a time when people want to remain home.”

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The new state budget includes Medicaid cuts that will impact nursing homes, hospitals and home care attendants. New York Caring Majority is planning more vigils in the coming weeks.

Sackman noted that testing nursing home staff for the coronavirus is one area where there has been improvement. Now, full-time staff is required to be tested twice a week, and those who work three days or less each week are tested weekly.

“Part of the problem here is that salaries are so low, often nursing home staff worked at more than one facility,” she said, “which means some of them were carrying, obviously, the virus from home to home.”

She said nursing homes still need better infection control, more staff and more personal protective equipment to be safer for workers and residents.

While Cuomo has gotten high praise for his efforts to stem the pandemic, Sackman said she believes his ten years as governor and four years as attorney general before that also laid the groundwork for the massive toll COVID-19 has taken on New York.

“Over the years, Cuomo cut Medicaid, he closed hospitals, we lost thousands of beds across the state, and look where it left us,” she said. “And he’s continuing down that same path.”

She said she believes with nursing homes, it’s time for the governor and the state to take a new direction.

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