I Work in a Nursing Home in New York. Andrew Cuomo Needs to Resign.
I will never forget what our outbreak was like, and the Governor needs to be held accountable for hiding what his policies caused.
Recently, after weeks of mounting allegations, a top aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo was recorded admitting that his administration had covered up the real death toll in New York State nursing homes, withholding data because they feared federal investigations after mandating that nursing homes accept Covid positive patients.
I work in a nursing home in New York State so for me, a story has never felt so personal.
I am a certified nursing assistant and activities aide, fortunate to work in one of, if not the top rated nursing homes in the entire area, and I genuinely cannot imagine working in any other facility. We take pride in being a five star organization, our level of care, the bond between staff members, and most important of all the bond between staff and our residents. As a CNA we are the eyes, ears, and voices of our residents. We are the first to notice when our residents aren’t acting like themselves, are declining or improving, and the nurses depend on us to tell them about any changes in our residents who may not be able to speak for themselves. As an activities aide, we have been entrusted with the mental health and stimulation for some of the most vulnerable people in the population, who have gone nearly a year without really being able to see their family. We are their connection to their loved ones through countless Facetime calls, a hand to hold, and a shoulder to cry on. We are their family, and they are ours.
The only reason we were able to avoid Cuomo’s devastating, incomprehensible policy was because our Director of Nursing scrambled to fill the handful of open beds we had, so we would not be forced to admit a coronavirus positive resident. Unfortunately, after almost a year of fending off the virus, it entered our facility.
After about a month with no new cases, I’ve come to notice in all the conversations with coworkers that have taken place over the past few months that the outbreak seems to have defined our entire work experience. There was a before, and we’re still waiting to see what the “after” entails.
For us, it didn’t happen overnight. Covid started slowly. I remember spending an isolated Thanksgiving with just my Mom, irritating her for the first few hours after I arrived because I anxiously kept insisting I could feel something was coming. How had we been this lucky for so long? There was no way it could last. I kept thinking about the eight Facetime calls earlier in the day, and how it felt as though our residents’ loved ones knew something was coming, too.
Sure enough, as I was packing my bags to go home, my coworker texted me that we had three positive residents. A covid unit had been established with only a select couple of aides and nurses allowed in, and it was gowns and face shields at all times on the units throughout the rest of the building as well.
Once Covid is in a place like a nursing home, there’s only so much you can do to keep it contained.
After a positive resident turns up, all other residents are tested. All other residents within what has been designated as the covid unit are moved elsewhere if they test negative, and it begins. Unfortunately, with the incubation period allowing covid to go undetected for days, it’s almost inevitable that a resident was moved who should not have been. They can then spread it to a resident with dementia who wanders and won’t wear a mask, and it’s only a matter of time before an entire unit is infected.
For a while, we were doing okay. For the first month, we had no more than five positive residents at a time, and only minor symptoms if any at all. Unfortunately, you can only delay the inevitable for so long. Two days before Christmas, we had fourteen more cases overnight, and they were getting sicker. By the time we entered mid-January, the vast majority of our residents had gotten the virus. When all was said and done, only five of our residents didn’t get it.
Twenty of our residents died.
I will never, ever forget those two months. I will never forget picking up an extra shift when most of the evening crew on the dementia unit was out with the virus, getting the residents I was caring for up for dinner, and knowing after moments of being with them that they all had it. I will never forget going into the room of my dying resident, fighting back tears as I assured his son and daughter-in-law crying outside the window in below freezing weather that he was comfortable. I will never forget sitting on his bed, holding his hand through plastic, crying with the other aide as we swapped stories, and told him how much we loved and were going to miss him.
How can I forget the joy on the face of my resident’s husband when he got to see her get the first dose of the vaccine over Facetime? Before the facility was closed to visitors last March, he had come in every single day to see her and feed her lunch. We were devastated to learn a few days after the Facetime call that she was already carrying the virus when she got the vaccine, and she died about a week later. Her husband wasn’t able to be with her, because although he was given the option if he wore PPE and quarantined after, their children understandably insisted they didn’t want to risk losing both of their parents to Covid.
In countless nursing homes, for countless elderly residents, countless loved ones, and countless healthcare workers, Andrew Cuomo’s policy is directly responsible for causing that pain, and I’ll never forget that he was rewarded for his “leadership” with an Emmy, a six figure book deal, and a prime time TV slot.
For Cuomo, my residents were nothing. Roommates who had become brothers during the pandemic and like grandfathers to the women who took care of them, who always talked about the liquor they were going to buy with bingo money when all of this is over, and died within days of each other were nothing more than data on a spreadsheet. My resident who spent her 99th birthday clinging to life after covid ripped through her body was reduced to just another number Cuomo was afraid could make him look bad. Their lives. Their families. Their stories. None of it mattered to the man more worried about his image and a future presidential run than the safety of the most vulnerable people he was elected to serve.
Is this what qualifies as leadership?
As I sat down to write this, it only got more and more difficult to work through all the emotions this news has brought back to the forefront for me. The anger, the sadness, the feelings of inadequacy, exhaustion, and fighting a losing battle are all fresh, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to mask the new level of disdain I feel for my Governor. At the very least, Cuomo should be forced to resign, and face an investigation. I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping that this follows him for the rest of his life. I hope this haunts him for as long as he is in office, and he’s never able to escape the devastation he caused to so many people.
My residents deserved better, and so did their loved ones and my coworkers.
We wouldn’t accept this from Donald Trump, and we shouldn’t accept it from Cuomo. If hiding death tolls because you don’t want to have to answer for your devastating policies isn’t enough to get someone removed from office, then what is?