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By CUNEYT DIL, Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The California board that regulates the nursing industry falsified its records to make it appear it was properly investigating allegations made against the state’s nurses, including serious complaints such as patient harm that can lead to nurses losing their licenses.

That was revealed in a scathing new report on Tuesday from the California State Auditor, who in 2016 found the board was slow to assign and review complaints that ranged from medical misconduct to the death of a toddler. The audit directed the board to get a move on clearing its backlog of pending investigations against nurses.

Instead, three executives at the board in late 2018 hurried to distribute cases among staff on paper, pretending that no one investigator was handling more than 20 cases, according to the auditor.

The findings are the latest rebuke to the Board of Registered Nursing by the auditor, Elaine Howle, whose office has released several critical reports of the board in recent years. Next month Howle is expected to release findings from a separate investigation reviewing whether the board is properly overseeing nursing schools.

The nine-member nursing board, which approves all licenses for registered nurses in the nation's most populous state, has also been rocked by inner turmoil. Its former executive director, Joseph Morris, resigned in mid-February after several women working for the board accused him of sexual harassment.

In 2016, the auditor said the backlog of cases led to nurses who were a risk to patients keeping their jobs. Typically, complaints against licensed nurses can include unprofessional conduct, drug use and negligence, according to the board.

In one case, the board took a year and a half to assign a complaint that alleged a nurse caused the death of a toddler by giving the wrong dosage of a medication. The nurse was allowed to practice for over three years while the complaint was being processed.

In response to those findings, the board pledged no investigator would have more than 20 cases at a time and in a 2018 report to the auditor claimed it had met its goal. The auditor accepted that report as legitimate. Soon after, the board moved those cases back to their original investigators.

“The executives’ obstruction violated state law and constituted gross misconduct,” the audit says.

The board began its own review of those two unnamed executives two weeks ago when it received a draft of the auditor's report, according to Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the board. The third executive had already left the agency.

Heimerich said the department will “immediately” work on fixing the issue of caseloads. “We will also begin a department-wide initiative to ensure that this can never happen again,” he wrote in an email.

Throughout March, as the coronavirus pandemic led to a scramble to find more medical workers in the state, dozens of nursing schools also blasted the nursing board for trailing other states in easing regulations for their students to graduate and get their licenses.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Gov. Cuomos coronavirus nursing home edict not to blame for deaths, report claims

Nothing to see here folks …

The Cuomo administration’s controversial policy of requiring nursing homes to accept coronavirus patients discharged from hospitals was not responsible for spreading infection and death and among frail residents, state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker insisted in a report released Monday.

Instead, the report stated it was infected nursing home staffers and visitors who spread the killer COVID-19 into nursing homes, the report said.

Zucker referenced his agency’s March 25 order that directed nursing homes to admit or readmit coronavirus patients from hospitals. The patients were not tested before readmitted to nursing homes — a policy that has since been repealed.

The report was largely a defense of that policy.

“Admission policies were not a significant factor in nursing home fatalities…The March 25 guidance was not the driving force in nursing home deaths,” Zucker said during a press conference.

Zucker and Gov. Andrew Cuomo had come under a firestorm of criticism for the policy, especially given that Cuomo had referred to how COVID-19 cuts down senior citizens “like fire through dry grass,” with families of nursing home residents and lawmakers calling for an independent probe.

The Health commissioner said blaming the state’s March 25 order was a “false narrative.”

But Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens), a critic of the of the state’s nursing home policies, slammed the report as “cover-up.”

“This is a conflict of interest for the health department to investigate its own poor decisions,” Kim said.

“For them to say that the decision of sending COVID-19 patients from hospitals into nursing did not contribute to increasing infections is ludicrous,” Kim said.

“This is part of the beginning of a cover-up for their poor decisions,” he added.

Zucker, meanwhile, said he was surprised to learn that 37,500 nursing staffers were infected with the virus during the peak of the pandemic — about one-quarter of the 158,000 nursing home workforce. Many of the staffers were asymptomatic and still caring for residents and inadvertently infected nursing home residents, the report said.

Dr. Howard A. Zucker Commissioner of Health for New York StateHans Pennink

Testing also show that 29 percent of the nursing home staffers had COVID-19 antibodies, according to the report.

Still, Zucker said the report found the peak of deaths in state nursing homes preceded the peak of admission of coronavirus patients from hospitals. The peak of nursing home fatalities occurred in April, while the largest number of patients transferred from hospitals to nursing homes occurred on April 14.

The analysis said 6,326 COVID patients were transferred from hospitals to nursing homes between March 25 and May 8.

The report also claimed that most patients admitted to nursing homes from hospitals were no longer contagious when admitted and therefore were not a source of the infection.

The analysis also found that nursing home quality was not a factor in the fatalities. The homes with higher rankings had a higher COVID-19 infection rate than those with lower rankings.

Zucker cited a Mount Sinai Medical Center revealing the presence of COVID-19 antibodies were discovered in blood specimens as early as Feb. 23.

The first coronavirus case was not reported in New York until March 1.

“This means that the virus was spreading in the NYC metropolitan region approximately three weeks earlier. The conclusions of the NYSDOH report of the root causes of nursing home fatalities in New York State are well supported by the data detailing nursing home staff COVID-19 illness,” said Mount Sinai president David Reich, who attended the Albany press conference along with Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling.

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For his part, Cuomo said later Monday the Health Department study was an accurate reflection of the spread of the virus in nursing homes.

He also noted that he didn’t bar family members from visiting nursing home until March 13.

“Visitors were not initially barred. We weren’t testing visitors,” Cuomo said at his own press conference.

“By the time we had our first case March 1 [COVID-19] had been here weeks, if not months….,” Cuomo said, who blamed the federal Centers for Disease Control for not raising the alarm. “Oops.”

Cuomo said the report vindicates his administration’s actions in regards to the March 25 order.

“You had this political conspiracy theory…..Pure politics. Ugly politics. The report tells the opposite story,” he insisted, in an oft-repeated refrain for the governor.

The report also downplayed whether the lack of personal protective equipment among nursing home staff — a common complaint during the heat of the pandemic in New York — was a contributing factor to nursing home infections and deaths.

Zucker said about nine million pieces of PPE were sent to nursing homes.

“I would put the blame on the coronavirus. No one knew this virus was here when it was here,” the Health commissioner said.

Filed under andrew cuomo ,  Coronavirus ,  Coronavirus in NY ,  health department ,  nursing homes ,  7/6/20 Share this article: Share this:
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