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Cuomo says 'void' of nursing home information was 'exploited'

Cuomo said he made a mistake in leaving New Yorkers without more information about the situation. Zucker said they made the right decision with the facts they had.

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard Zucker both addressed the controversy over the handling of the state's nursing home data on Friday.

"We should have provided more public information sooner, yes. No, no excuse. We should have been more aggressive in fighting misinformation," Cuomo said.

During his COVID-19 news conference, Cuomo said he made a mistake in leaving New Yorkers without more information about the situation and not providing information in a timely manner.

Dr. Zucker defended the decisions they made regarding nursing homes in March, saying that they made the best decisions with the information they had at the time.

Cuomo said that he acknowledges his mistake in creating a "void" of missing information that was "exploited." The governor addressed areas where he felt there was a lack of information and provided information he said he hopes will resolve questions from families.

"I was not aggressive enough in knocking down the falsity. We were busy doing our job, we're trying to save lives, no excuses. I was not aggressive enough," Cuomo said, saying he dismissed the "falsities" as politics and personal agendas.

"But I should have been more aggressive in calling it out, because it wasn't hurting me. It hurt the families who had questions."

Cuomo explained that he did pause the legislators' request for data, in order to give the Department of Justice precedence, and says legislators were notified. The governor opined that he believes that some legislators were offended they did not get precedence. 

After discussing the information void, Cuomo also directed the discussion to Dr. Zucker, who defended the decisions the state made regarding nursing homes in March.

"As a doctor, it's in my DNA to always ask myself whether a decision was correct. You play it over and over again in your head. You can ask your doctor, they're going to tell you the same thing," Dr. Zucker said.

"But you can only review the decision with the facts you had at the time, and with the facts that we had at that moment in time, it was the correct decision from a public health point of view."

Zucker went on to say that the COVID-19 hospital rates were growing at a staggering rate, and every three days the rate was doubling. 

He described how facing rising hospital rates and projections, the state had to make decisions to preserve the health system. 

He also explained how hospitals have to make decisions about who needs the care at the hospital, versus who can recover at home.

For nursing home residents, being sent to recover at home would mean having to go back to the nursing homes. He also went over the March 13 federal guidance that advised this situation.

Zucker emphasized that based on what the state knew at the time, that was moving residents back to facilities was the correct decision. But he also discussed how facilities weren't supposed to take residents with COVID-19 if they could not handle it.

Cuomo ended his press conference saying that he has spoken with legislative leaders and he says they have agreed to move forward. 

The governor also went over a variety of health care reforms he would like to see based on what they've learned from the pandemic. He says he's added these reforms to the state budget and will not sign it unless it's included in the final budget.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are calling for full investigations into how the Governor's administration handled the nursing home situation during the pandemic. 

On Friday, Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for a full investigation. Many Republicans are going a step further and calling for Cuomo's impeachment.

While the governor did not call on 2 On Your Side during Friday's press conference, he did call from reporters from Albany, New York City, and Syracuse.

"It seems one of the questions here is about credibility. There are people, Democrats and Republicans, who wonder, did you lie to them? And they say, can we trust this guy still? What do you say to them?" asked WCBS Newsradio 880's Peter Haskell.

"I say, first of all, look at the results, Peter. Can you trust this state's response to COVID? Let's look at the facts. No state was hit as hard as we were. We were ambushed. We went from the highest infection rate to the lowest. We were on the verge of overwhelming the hospitals, like China, like Italy, that never happened. We never wound up in the situation that California is in today. New Yorkers did a phenomenal job. Dr. Zucker did a phenomenal job. That is all a fact," said Cuomo.

The governor then talked about state legislators who requested information about nursing home deaths. Governor Cuomo says their request was put on pause because the state was working on getting it to the Department of Justice, which took precedence.

"Well, 'he didn't respond to my request.' Yeah, well, he told you he wasn't responding to your request. It's not a credibility question. I said, no, I'm not answering your request now. I have a lot going on. We're managing the pandemic. We're responding to the Department of Justice. I said no. It's not a credibility. Now, they didn't like the answer no. I get that, but that's not credibility," said Cuomo.

This scandal is why 2 On Your Side has been asking members of Western New York's legislative delegation where they stand when it comes to the Governor's emergency powers which allow him to issue executive orders during the pandemic setting regulations.

We had gotten definitive opinions from everyone except for three Democrats - Assemblymembers Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Karen McMahon, as well as State Senator Sean Ryan, whose office previously told 2 On Your Side's Steve Brown more legislative oversight is needed with regards to the Governor's emergency powers.

2 On Your Side reached out to all three Friday asking about the emergency powers. Sean Ryan's office told us, "The Senator supports the efforts of Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and the Senator Majority to establish a bipartisan commission to review Governor Cuomo's emergency directives."

Crystal Peoples-Stokes office told us, "Governor Cuomo made considerable strides in protecting New Yorkers, albeit not without some significant missteps." 

And, Karen McMahon's office told us she "has come out in favor of letting the Governor's powers sunset at the end of April."

To see where the other lawmakers stand, check out 2 On Your Side's previous reporting