Albany Politicians Block Effort to Protect State’s Most Vulnerable Population from COVID-19

Assemblyman Kevin Byrne (R,C,I,SAM,ROS-Mahopac) has expressed his disdain for the decision made by his colleagues in the Assembly Majority to vote to hold legislation he introduced (A.3839), of which similar legislation (S.4828) was introduced to the Senate by Sen. Sue Serino, which would require the Department of Health to submit a plan to establish regional step-down facilities and provide temporary care for individuals who have been released from the hospital after being treated for COVID-19. On Monday, April 19, a vote to prevent the bill from advancing out of the Assembly Health Committee occurred following a decision made along partisan lines, with every Assembly Majority member on the committee voting to block the measure without providing any justification for doing so.

“Last year, I was heartened to see many of my colleagues from the majority voice their concerns during legislative hearings when they questioned the health commissioner about why our state didn’t fully utilize the USNS Comfort, Javitz Center, Westchester County Center, or any of the other numerous field hospitals set up by the Army Corps of Engineers. It was an important question to ask. We now know that the DOH’s controversial March 25 mandate did in fact add fuel to the fire, worsening an already bad situation, helping to introduce roughly 9,000 COVID-19 hospital patients into nursing homes.”

Byrne continued, “We cannot expect to move forward from this pandemic if we cannot learn from our state’s past mistakes. Rather than push through dangerous mandates, our state should be moving forward with a plan for step-down facilities to help those recovering from this virus without increasing risk to other vulnerable populations or the community at large. While overdue, I was pleased to learn that earlier this year the DOH had quietly announced that at least 13 new COVID-19 only facilities were set up. The problem is we still have little to no information about these facilities, when they were set up or how they operate within our healthcare system. The state should learn from its underutilization of the resources previously supplied by the federal government and support a plan for step-down facilities as proposed by Sen. Serino and myself. Quite frankly, we should have done this last year. To block this potentially life-saving proposal because of apparent partisan politics is a front to every New Yorker and should not be tolerated. I ask my colleagues to reconsider their position, put partisan politics aside, and support sound public health policy proposals based on their merit moving forward.”

"I have been calling for the creation of COVID-only facilities to protect vulnerable nursing home residents since April of 2020 and despite multiple direct inquiries with the Governor's Office and the Department of Health, those requests were ignored,” said Serino. “Now, we have a situation where some of these residents and staff are vaccinated while others are not, and despite my multiple inquiries as to what updated infectious disease protocols are in place, and what additional steps are being taken to protect unvaccinated residents, the state has remained silent. Over 15,000 facility residents have been lost to COVID-19 already. When it comes to protecting these New Yorkers, we cannot let our guard down and we must ensure that every safeguard available is in place to keep them safe, healthy and COVID-free. While this is an issue that should transcend politics, it has been incredibly disappointing to see the Supermajority's inaction when presented with proposals like this, and so many others, that could help save lives."