The largest nursing home association in Pennsylvania says it would be a mistake for the commonwealth to follow in the footsteps of New York and force facilities to accept COVID-19 infected patients.

“States are increasingly turning to nursing homes to relieve the burden on hospitals and take in COVID-19 patients considered stable enough to be released,” the New York Times reported over the weekend. “Although there is no evidence so far that the practice has allowed infections to spread in nursing homes, many residents and advocates fear that it is only a matter of time.”

The mandatory readmittance policy has sparked a firestorm in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo has defended the state’s approach.

On April 23, Cuomo was asked what went wrong in New York’s nursing homes, where more than 3,500 nursing home residents have died from the coronavirus.

“Nothing went wrong! Nothing,” Cuomo insisted. “Mother Nature brought a virus and the virus attacks old people, and nothing went wrong. Nobody’s to blame.”

Many nursing home employees don’t agree. “Whoever made this decision, whoever did this, I consider this a sentence of death for all the older patients, whoever is in a nursing home,” Mina Ebrahem, a physical therapist who has worked at multiple New York nursing homes, told the Times.

“Fortunately, Pennsylvania officials have not issued a mandate requiring nursing home operators to accept patients infected with COVID-19 who are being discharged from hospitals,” Zach Shamberg, CEO for the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, told Delaware Valley Journal. “And that’s the way it should remain.”

A state-by-state study by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that — as of April 23 — 16 percent of COVID-19 cases and 51 percent of coronavirus deaths in Pennsylvania occurred in long-term care facilities.

“By introducing patients into a nursing home who have tested positive for COVID-19, are awaiting test results or exhibiting symptoms, we risk the lives of residents, caregivers and anyone entering the facility,” Shamberg added.

State health data shows coronavirus infections by county in the Delaware Valley for nursing home patients, followed by the number of nursing home deaths:

  • Bucks                536 /100
  • Chester             299 /66
  • Delaware          653 /103
  • Montgomery   1,224 /78

New Jersey also has a mandatory readmittance policy, though their rate of infection in nursing homes remains relatively low. About 12 percent of cases and 40 percent of deaths in the Garden State originate from long-term care facilities.

As with most considerations around the coronavirus and professional medical care, the greatest concern is the availability of equipment, Shamberg said. “Mandating patient discharges to nursing homes that do not have the appropriate equipment or supplies is a recipe for disaster.”

“We hope to work with the Wolf administration and the Pennsylvania Department of Health to identify those nursing homes across the state that have the capability to handle these transitions and the necessary supply of equipment and staff so that patients have the best chance to recover.”

Shamberg also criticized Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s “Plan for Pennsylvania,” outlining how the state would try to emerge from the coronavirus crisis. He urged Wolf to appoint a “long-term care ambassador” to facilitate policy issues between the government and long-term care providers.

In New Hampshire, the head of that state’s nursing home association stridently attacked the mandatory readmittance policy.

“Mercifully, this policy isn’t in place in New Hampshire,” said Brendan Williams, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Health Care Association. “I think that order in New York is tantamount to genocide.”