Yvonne Parson wasn’t in the room when her father died. Like millions of people with relatives inside one of the country’s many nursing homes this past year, she couldn’t be.
James Hutcherson, a 93-year-old resident of New York State Veterans’ Home at St. Albans, had been living in the state-run Queens facility for four years, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and dementia. Parson says she visited him twice a week, paid his medical bills and oversaw his care, communicating regularly with the nursing staff.
By March 2020, however, those communications became more difficult. Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all nursing facilities closed to visitors and, soon after, COVID-19 infiltrated St. Albans. On April 8, Parson got the call she never wanted: Her father had died, a doctor explained.
Weeks later, Parson received her father’s final medical bill in the mail. Scanning the list of prescriptions, she paused on two drugs she didn’t recognize: hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. She had known everything about his medical treatment. Why didn’t she know about this?
Hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug first approved in the United States in 1955, was used widely throughout the country last spring as an experimental treatment for COVID-19. The drug, often combined with the antibiotic azithromycin, had been touted for months by officials at every level of government — most prominently by then-President Donald Trump.
The state, which licenses and inspects all 613 nursing homes in New York, allowed the facilities to administer hydroxychloroquine to patients exposed to the virus, even after public health experts cautioned against its use in non-hospital settings or for elderly and vulnerable patients.
Both drugs carry potential side effects, including anemia, neuromuscular damage, vision impairment and, of greatest concern, fatal heart arrhythmia. While rare in healthy patients, the risks increase with age and comorbidities like kidney or cardiovascular disease, experts say.