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News of Otsego County

View from Albany

SEWARD: Trouble At Nursing Homes

THE VIEW FROM ALBANY

Trouble At

Nursing Homes

By State Sen. JIM SEWARD • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Nursing home policies in New York State have been under the microscope throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and a number of significant concerns remain.

James L. Seward, who has represented Otsego County in the state Senate for 35 years, resides in Milford.

Back in July, after months of silence and inaction, Democrats finally heeded the call to hold legislative hearings.

Unfortunately, the Senate Investigations Committee refused to issue even a single subpoena to compel documents and testimony from the Cuomo Administration or state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.

While Commissioner Zucker took part in one hearing, he failed to answer a number of questions and did not provide accurate facts and figures regarding the number of nursing home residents who passed away during the pandemic. The commissioner avoided a second hearing entirely.

The lack of transparency is appalling and, certainly, not what grieving families deserve.
One major concern the commissioner was questioned on during the hearing centered on nursing-home visitation policies. Loved ones and facility staff who testified at the hearings discussed the negative and severe physical and mental health impacts the lack of visitation was having on residents. The testimony was heartbreaking in many instances.

For months, all visits to nursing homes were prohibited. Then in July, limited visitations were finally allowed as long as a number of conditions were met.

Unfortunately, the extremely stringent guidelines still made it nearly impossible for family members to visit their loved ones, continuing the isolation for many.

Finally, after repeated pleas, the guidelines were updated on Sept. 15. However, there are still major roadblocks in place.

Under the altered guidelines from the Department of Health, nursing homes are allowing limited visitation to resume for facilities that have been without COVID-19 for at last 14 days. That is down from the previous rule of 28 days, a benchmark that most facilities in the state were unable to reach.

The Department of Health boasted that the new rule would open limited visitation to about 500 of the state’s over 600 facilities.

However, here’s the rub, the new guidelines include a major hurdle – in implement-
ing the new guidance, the state also added a new layer of rules, prohibiting those under 18 from visiting and requiring visitors to have a negative COVID-19 test result within seven days of their visit even if the visit is to be safely distanced outdoors.

The testing requirement is particularly onerous for loved ones; as a result, times across the state vary significantly, with many New Yorkers currently waiting 10 days or more to receive their test results.

Immediately upon the release of the new guidelines, family members began contacting my office, pointing out the problematic fine print. Tests can be difficult to come by, there are many individuals who cannot afford them, and results take time to receive.

Many family members, who previously met with nursing home residents outdoors, were forced to cancel upcoming visits due to the new guidelines.

The health and well-being of nursing home residents must be a top priority. However, we need to formulate a procedure that will allow safe visitations to occur. We also know that a negative test from a week ago, or even a day ago, does not ensure protection for the residents or staff of a facility.

There is a rapid test available that can instantly alert a visitor and nursing home staff to a COVID-positive result in a matter of minutes. Access to this test for nursing home visitors would be a game changer. By utilizing the 15-minute test currently approved by the FDA, a visitor could be checked upon arrival to a nursing home and know almost immediately
if it is safe to enter.

One person who wrote me put it this way: “Nursing home visits are essential for the elderly. They are at the end of their lives.”

The Department of Health needs to step up and provide nursing homes with the rapid tests so that visitors can safely visit their loved ones while adhering to the new mandates.

SEWARD: Don’t Forget Lyme Disease

The View From Albany

Don’t Forget

Lyme Disease

State Sen. Jim Seward

The Coronavirus threat continues to dominate our lives in so many ways. As the weather starts to improve and people spend more time outdoors, while practicing social distancing and following other safety guidelines, there is another issue to keep in mind – Lyme disease.

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month and with the number of reported cases in New York rising each year, it is important to arm yourself and your family with the tools to avoid the disease when possible, and detect and treat when necessary.

Lyme disease is an infection, caused by bacteria, that is spread by the bite of an infected blacklegged tick. Lyme disease can affect the skin, joints, nervous system and/or heart.

When detected early, it usually can be treated with oral antibiotics. If left untreated, it often causes serious health problems.

According to reports by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), New York State has the third highest number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the country, trailing only our neighbors, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

While this problem has historically been concentrated on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley, the state Department of Health reports that it is quickly migrating to other counties across New York.
Not all ticks carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease; they become infected after feeding on infected animals such as mice or other small mammals.

Transmission times for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases vary, and the sooner a tick is removed, the lower the risk of infection. Always check for ticks after spending time outdoors. You cannot get Lyme disease from another person or an infected animal.

Ticks can be active all months of the year when temperatures are above freezing. However, most tick encounters occur from April through November. Their preferred habitats are wooded areas and adjacent grasslands. Lawns and gardens at the edges of woods may also be home to blacklegged ticks.

Ticks may feed on wild animals such as mice, deer, birds and raccoons, but domestic animals such as cats, dogs and horses can also carry the ticks closer to home.

I have worked to enact several new laws in New York State to improve our response to Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. We have also taken steps to upgrade education efforts and enhance efficiency when it comes to treatment and reporting measures. However, more work remains.

One bill that I have co-sponsored would serve as a major step forward for treatment of Lyme. The legislation would create specific protocol to notify individuals of their diagnoses related to Lyme and other TBDs.

The bill would require the commissioner of health to work with health care providers to develop a standard protocol and patient notification for the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme and TBDs.

In discussing this issue with individuals who have contracted Lyme and doctors alike, it is clear that diagnosis and treatment plans vary greatly. We need to develop a uniform health care strategy that will increase positive outcomes so people aren’t left guessing if they are infected or if they will be left to struggle with a debilitating disease for the rest of their lives.

Additional information regarding Lyme disease prevention, how to remove a tick, and symptoms is available through the New York State Department of Health website at www.health.ny.gov. By knowing the facts and taking precautions, you can enjoy the outdoors and avoid Lyme disease.

Turing our attention back to the Coronavirus pandemic, please keep in mind the health and safety guidelines along with ever changing state policies. Complete information is available at https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/home.

It is terrific to see improvements regarding health statistics. Moving forward, I will continue to advocate for a commonsense regional approach to re-open our economy. Again, let me stress, public health needs to be the top priority as New York makes informed decisions during this crucial transition period.

State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, has represented Otsego County in Albany for 35 years.

SEWARD: Are Lawless Rewarded And Lives Endangered?

VIEW FROM ALBANY

Art Lawless Rewarded

And Lives Endangered?

At this time of year, I normally review positive policies and new laws that have been adopted in Albany.  Unfortunately, there was more bad news than good coming from the state Capitol during 2019.

State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, represents the 51st District, which includes his native Otsego County.

One item that will benefit homeowners is a permanent 2-percent property tax cap.  I have long supported this tax relief measure and have helped pass Senate legislation on a number of previous occasions to guarantee this savings tool.   However, as I have said in the past, for the property tax cap to truly deliver we need to end unfunded state mandates that tie the hands of local government officials.

Unfortunately, no mandate relief measures were adopted this year. And, in fact, local governments will now have to prepare for plenty of new costs thanks to the state budget and other Albany missteps.  If state officials believe a program is important, than funding must be part of the package.  Forcing the costs on to local governments (and ultimately taxpayers) and then boasting about doing something good, is disingenuous.

New laws to “reform” New York State’s criminal justice system are also going to be costly – increasing expenses for local governments and putting public safety at risk.  These measures, that are set to take effect at the start of the year, have received a great deal of attention in recent weeks as more and more people voice their concerns.  The measures, which I opposed, include:

  • Bail changes that will allow 90 percent of individuals arrested to walk free without posting bail;
  • New discovery laws that put increased demands on local prosecutors and could put crime victims and witnesses in danger.

A letter I just received from the state Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials (NYCOM) states, “The dramatic acceleration in the timing of discovery and the expansion of the matters to which it applies will have significant cost and compliance implications for cities and villages with police departments and/or local justice courts.”

Recently, the state Sheriffs’ Association, the District Attorneys Association of New York, and the state Association of Chiefs of Police held press conferences around the state to voice their concerns and opposition to the new laws.

As I have said previously, I am open to discussing changes that could better address the way bail is utilized, but judges should still be afforded some discretion.  Starting on Jan. 1, judges will have no opportunity to consider an individual’s criminal history or flight risk when it comes to a bevy of crimes including manslaughter, assault, criminal possession of a gun, and a number of drug sale offenses.  Instead, these perpetrators will be released immediately without bail.

Another new law I opposed, which has already taken effect, allows illegal immigrants to receive a driver’s license.  Providing a driver’s license, a secure identification document, to someone who is intentionally breaking the law is inconceivable.  This measure is bad public policy that could put lives in danger, rewards lawbreakers, and sends the wrong message to those who take the legal path to citizenship.

Supporters of the measure like to mention that other states already allow illegal immigrants to drive.  However, those states require substantially tighter proof of identification and may impose limitations on driving to incentivize naturalization.  None of those states relies solely on foreign documents for identification purposes, which is the case in New York.

One other new law that will have a major impact is the new farm labor bill.  The mandates associated with the law will hurt our upstate farmers and drive up the cost of farm goods that we all purchase.

At the start of the 2019 legislative session, I pledged to advance policies to improve New York’s economy, help reduce the crushing tax burden, and combat population loss.  I will continue to advocate for those priorities in 2020 and am hopeful that the mistakes of this past year will not be repeated.

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