AG Letitia James: truth to power

Letitia James is no stranger to battle. We’ve seen her in action for years, fighting the odds in her enduring quest for equity and justice.

On January 28, with the release of her report, Nursing Home Response to COVID-19 Pandemic, James took on a behemoth, the New York nursing home industry, on behalf of residents and their families and the staff in those facilities.

The AG’s Report sent shockwaves through the industry and the halls of power in Albany. No one was immune — from the owners and executives, to the governor and the Department of Health.

Above all, it unsettled families and friends of nursing home residents, providing a clear view for the first time into the inner-workings of nursing homes during COVID and detailing the circumstances that led to the demise of their loved ones. It has provoked outrage and sadness.

Staffing and mortality

In short, the Department of Health reported 6,645 nursing home residents died of COVID-19 between March and November 2020 — a figure the AG report said failed to take into account nursing home residents who were transferred to hospitals or other care sites and died there. When those deaths were counted, the toll grew by 50%, much higher than the official NYS DOH count.

What’s most critical is that the AG Report reaffirmed what we’ve reported for years: poor staffing results in higher mortality. James showed that nursing homes with the lowest CMS Star Data on staffing had mortality rates 44% higher than those with the highest ratings.

The bottom line: If state law had required all nursing homes to meet the staffing levels of 5-Star CMS-rated facilities, the 6,645 nursing home deaths (looking at the State’s numbers) would have been reduced to 5,094. That’s 1,551 lives that could have been saved.

One of the core recommendations of the AG’s Report is to enact minimum caregiver-to-resident staffing ratios in nursing homes.

This recommendation affirms the legitimacy of our campaign for safe staffing. Now in the NYS Legislature, the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act, calls for safe staffing for nurses and other caregivers in hospitals and nursing homes through staffing ratios established by law.

Letitia James has proven herself again. She remains a force for justice on behalf of working families, communities of color and others who the system has forgotten or ignored.

Public Advocate for the people

As Public Advocate of NYC, the first woman of color to hold citywide office, she was with us in 2013 at Long Island College Hospital: “Open for Care!” That closing threatened the health and safety of thousands of Brooklyn residents.

You could not miss her presence at Interfaith Medical Center, working with a coalition to keep it open with full, fair, and continued funding.

This was home turf for Letitia James. She understood clearly how critical IMC is to care for Central Brooklyn and its role as a healthcare destination for residents of many underserved communities, including communities of color.

In the Bronx — the poorest congressional district in the nation — James’ took a stand and delivered. Her efforts to keep North Central Bronx a viable facility for maternal care helped make the difference. After its closure, Letitia James would not let go, and it reopened within a year, thanks in no small measure to her appearance at our rallies and other significant events.

Today, thanks to Letitia James, women from those underserved communities have quality labor & delivery and other maternal health services.

It was Letitia James, again, who stood with us before the DOH Public Health and Health Planning Council, demanding full disclosure of documents in our winning fight to stop a for-profit dialysis company from acquiring public chronic dialysis facilities at public hospitals. As with nursing homes, the mortality data was key.

From the NRA to Google

James went to the source on gun violence. She filed a lawsuit against the National Rifle Association (NRA) to dissolve the organization. She is suing Facebook and Google in antitrust cases, saying that their suppression and/or acquisition of smaller competitors has amounted to an illegal social media monopoly.

In Letitia James, we have a warrior for the people of New York.

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