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Cuomo addresses nursing home scandal

Lawmakers call for repealing emergency powers

Matt Shortall - Co-editor
Posted 2/18/21

NEW YORK STATE — A growing number of state lawmakers are criticizing Governor Andrew Cuomo and his administration over the handling of nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The New York …

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Cuomo addresses nursing home scandal

Lawmakers call for repealing emergency powers

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NEW YORK STATE — A growing number of state lawmakers are criticizing Governor Andrew Cuomo and his administration over the handling of nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The New York Post was first to report that Secretary to the Governor, Melissa DeRosa, told a small group of lawmakers during a video conference last week that they delayed the release of data related to the COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents over concern that the true figures “would be used against us” in a Federal Investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Gov. Cuomo addressed the growing crisis on Monday during a wide ranging press conference on the pandemic where he admitted mistakes had been made but stopped short of admitting serious wrongdoing.

“I want to clarify facts on the nursing homes, which has been an ongoing discussion,” Gov. Cuomo said. “This past year, there was a toxic political environment and everything gets politicized and there's political spin and then there are facts — two very different things and I just want to be sure people have facts.”

Cuomo claimed that the Department of Justice sent a letter to Democratic governors in New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Pennsylvania last August asking for information on public nursing homes. He said the New York State Legislature also sent a letter asking for information on nursing homes.

“We paused the State Legislators' request while we were finishing the DOJ request,” Cuomo claimed. “We told both houses, the Assembly and the Senate, that we had a DOJ request for information and we were prioritizing that.”

Mike Whyland, Communications Director for New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, said on Monday that the Speaker had no knowledge of an official DOJ inquiry.

“The void allowed misinformation and conspiracy, and now people are left with the thought of, ‘Did my loved one have to die?' And that is a brutal, brutal question to pose to a person,” Cuomo continued. “I want everyone to know - everything was done. Everything was done by the best minds in the best interest and the last thing we wanted to do - the last thing that I wanted to do was to aggravate a terrible situation.”

According to the COVID Tracking Project, residents at long-term care facilities account for one percent of the national population yet make up 36 percent of COVID-19 deaths.

Sullivan County is trending below the national average, with long-term care facility residents representing 30 percent of coronavirus deaths (20 out of 66), according to the most recent data released by the New York State Department of Health last week.

That number reflects residents who died at long-term care facilities as well as residents who died after being transferred to hospitals

The data, which runs from March 1, 2020 through February 4, 2021, was released by the State Department of Health last week after months of delays and repeated requests from state lawmakers and media outlets.

It comes two weeks after a January report from New York State Attorney General, Letitia James, which found that DOH may have undercounted deaths of nursing home residents from COVID-19 by as much as 50 percent.

The official count was amended from 8,500 to more than 15,000.

Lawmakers respond

Criticism of the Governor's administration after the report from Attorney General James only grew after the admission by DeRosa that Coronavirus data had been intentionally delayed.

“This isn't about right and left. This is about right and wrong, and covering up 15,000 deaths for political reasons is flat out wrong,” said State Senator Mike Martucci, who represents New York's 42nd State Senate District. “We need to know what this administration knew and when. An independent investigation is needed now more than ever, and anyone involved should face justice.”

Martucci was among those lawmakers calling for the State Legislature to pass a joint resolution revoking the Governor's emergency powers which give him broad authority to supersede state laws in addressing the pandemic.

Martucci also called for an independent investigation to be led by a special prosecutor, going so far as to suggest former federal prosecutor Preet Bharara to serve in that role.

“In my opinion no one is better at rooting out corruption and taking on powerful figures than he is. I believe he is absolutely the right person for this job,” Martucci said to constituents last Friday.

“I think the public should be very aware of what's happening in terms of COVID-19 deaths,” said Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, who represents New York's 100th Assembly District. “What we have to say is not easy, but people thrive on truth … People don't like to be misled and honesty is the best policy.”

Gunther described Melissa DeRosa's comments as “a shocking revelation.”

Furthermore, Gunther expressed frustration that she was not included among the lawmakers who were on DeRosa's video conference since she sits on the Committee on Health and is also a registered nurse.

“I would feel really good about having the ability to ask the questions that are important to me and to drill down on exactly what happened, but I didn't get that opportunity. It wasn't an inclusive conversation and that's very aggravating.”

U.S. Congressman Antonio Delgado, who represents New York's 19th Congressional District, was among the first Federal lawmakers calling for a probe into the Governor's handling of nursing homes.

“Politics should never come before people's lives. The Secretary to the Governor's remarks are beyond troubling and warrant a full investigation,” Delgado tweeted last Sunday. “Thousands of New Yorkers lost family in nursing homes to COVID-19, a pain made worse by the inability to comfort their loves ones in their final hours. They deserve answers and accountability.”

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