Republicans in the New York State legislature are turning up the volume on their call for a full investigation of the state's handling of the COVID-19 crisis in New York's nursing homes.
However, with the way things are currently stacked at the state capitol, they'll need the muscle of their colleagues from across the aisle to get it.
Looking for answers
With New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker delaying his scheduled appearance before state lawmakers on Wednesday, it denied them a chance to ask him about the way the state handled things, or about a report released by the office of the New York State Attorney General last week.
The report said the state undercounted the number of deaths in nursing homes, by not including those residents who contracted Covid there, and then died in hospitals while being treated for it.
Outrage continues as well, by a remark made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week following the AG's report, in which he said where the person died is not of great consequence.
"Who cares?" Cuomo asked. "However many died in a nursing home or however many died in a hospital ... they died."
"To hear that response of this governor. ...our so called leader.. this Emperor up in Albany ... is just so awful," said Phil Minissale, who with his brother and sister is still mourning the loss of their mother last April.
The siblings were invited by republican lawmakers to join them during a Zoom news conference on Wednesday.
"Even to this day it's heart wrenching to think of our mother," Minissale said.
The AG's report, which also raised questions regarding the practices of nursing home operators, also noted that certain government guidance on how to handle nursing home residents during the pandemic may have put members of that vulnerable population at risk.
One in particular that continues to be raised is a Cuomo administration order in late March, just as the pandemic began to take hold in New York but after the nation's first major outbreak of COVID-19 had been detected at a nursing home in the state of Washington where 34 residents died.
Despite evidence that nursing home patients were extremely susceptible to dying from the virus, New York State ordered that its nursing homes had to take in patients from hospitals, regardless of whether they had COVID-19, and further prohibited nursing homes from even testing those patients prior to their admission.
The AG's report suggests there may have been more than 6,000 such patients admitted to nursing homes before the state rescinded the order in May, and that this could have led to thousands of nursing home deaths.
An investigation could prove or dispel Minissale's fear that his mother died after catching the virus in her nursing home from another patient who was admitted while having it.
"We will get answers, we will get the truth, and we will hold those responsible accountable," assured NYS Senator Rob Ortt (R-North Tonawanda), who serves as the State Senate Minority Leader.
Asking the super majority for help
In truth, however, due to to their minority status, republican lawmakers lack the clout to do as Ortt promised, something that was acknowledged by New York State Assemblyman Will Barclay (R-Pulaski), who serves as the Leader of the Assembly Minority Conference.
"The only way we're going to get this to have the Democrats, with their super majority, to agree to have the hearings and use their subpoena power and get answers from second floor," said Barclay, in referencing the Governor's office which occupies the second floor of the state capitol building in Albany.
Thus far, democratic leaders in the State Senate and State Assembly have not been inclined to take those measures.
"If they are not willing to do it, then they are complicit in the coverup, and I don't say that lightly" said NYS Senator Sue Serino (R-Hyde Park), who serves as the Ranking Member of the Senate’s Aging Committee.
To make it easier, Serino even took the step of drafting a legislative subpoena, which she said she would offer to any Majority Committee Chair who would be willing to issue it to launch a full investigation.
"All they have to do its sign it," Serino said.
State lawmakers not alone in calling for probe
Meanwhile, United States Congressmen Tom Reed and Chris Jacobs, along with New York's Republican Congressional delegation have joined together to call for Cuomo, Zucker, and Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa to be subpoenaed in regard to the recent report on COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes. They announced their intent to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to launch its own investigation on Wednesday.