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Scrutiny over state's handling of nursing homes, COVID-19 grows amid New York Post report

Several lawmakers have spoken out and called for an end to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's emergency powers.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Earlier this week the New York Post claimed in a report that the Secretary to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Melissa DeRosa, admitted the state hid nursing home data.

Since then, several lawmakers have voiced their outrage over the news, and this isn't the first time. 

Scrutiny over the administration's handling of nursing homes throughout the COVID pandemic has grown over the last several months.  

In late March, an order by the Cuomo administration became the root of a lot of concern and criticism. 

The order states, "No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the NH solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19."

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When asked about this in a COVID-19 briefing in April, Gov. Cuomo replied in part, "They don't have the right to object. That is the rule and that is the regulation and they have to comply with it."  

In May that order was rescinded. 

By late January of this year, New York State Attorney General Letitia James released a report on her office’s ongoing investigations into nursing homes throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

The report alleged several issues including:

  • A larger number of nursing home residents died from COVID-19 than DOH data reflected 
  • Lack of compliance with infection control protocols put residents at increased risk of harm
  • Insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for nursing home staff put residents at increased risk of harm
  • Government guidance requiring the admission of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities and may have obscured the data available to assess that risk.

More information on that report here

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker released a statement shortly after.

Dr. Zucker's comments were lengthy, but he summarized saying in part, "All of this confirms that many nursing home operators made grave mistakes and were not adequately prepared for this pandemic, and that reforms are needed, which is why we proposed radical reforms to oversight of nursing home facilities in this year's State Budget."

At a COVID-19 briefing following, state officials addressed the report as well.

Dr. Zucker said, "When they say there was undercounting, that's just factually inaccurate." 

Dr. Zucker insisted his department had been transparent, noting that the state’s practice had been to keep the COVID-related deaths of nursing home residents who died within their long-term care facilities as separate counts from those residents who died in a hospital while being treated for COVID-19. 

Gov. Cuomo added, "Who cares? 33, 28, died in a hospital, died in a nursing home, they died."

That comment, following the report, sparked outrage among some lawmakers, which has only increased after the New York Post article.

Now a growing number of elected officials, including several Democrats, are calling for an end to the governor's emergency powers, while others want a federal investigation.

State GOP Chair Nick Langworthy went one step further, saying, "Prosecution and impeachment discussions must begin right away.” 

DeRosa issued a statement via email Friday from the Governor's Press Office:

"I was explaining that when we received the DOJ inquiry, we needed to temporarily set aside the Legislature's request to deal with the federal request first. We informed the houses of this at the time. We were comprehensive and transparent in our responses to the DOJ, and then had to immediately focus our resources on the second wave and vaccine rollout. As I said on a call with legislators, we could not fulfill their request as quickly as anyone would have liked. But we are committed to being better partners going forward as we share the same goal of keeping New Yorkers as healthy as possible during the pandemic."

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