New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he should have been more aggressive in calling out lies and misinformation about the nursing-home residents who died of COVID-19.
Cuomo said he made a mistake in being “complacent” and not responding earlier to critiques of his administration’s handling of information about nursing-home fatalities. “I saw them and dismissed them as false agendas and partisan politics,” the governor said Friday during a virus briefing.
For months, Cuomo’s administration resisted requests from state lawmakers and the media for a complete death toll among nursing-home residents. A top aide admitted to lawmakers last week that the administration had withheld the data from state lawmakers amid a similar request from the U.S. Justice Department.
“I said no, I’m not answering your request now,” he said on Friday. “They didn’t like the answer.”
On Friday, Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, hit back against accusations that he had been calling his detractors to bully them into backing down on their criticism over his administration’s handling of the nursing-home data.
Cuomo is facing growing scrutiny over his administrations handling of nursing-home deaths. The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York have launched an investigation. Some state lawmakers are seeking an early end to some of the emergency powers they awarded Cuomo at the start of the pandemic. Members of Congress, including Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Republican Chuck Grassley have called for additional federal investigations into the nursing-home deaths.
“I support our state’s return to co-equal governance and stand with our local officials calling for a full investigation of the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing homes during COVID-19,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement Friday.
On Jan. 28, state Attorney General Letitia James released a damning report that said Cuomo’s guidance on admitting coronavirus patients to nursing homes may have put healthy residents at risk. The state has since released data revealing thousands of nursing home deaths that occurred in hospitals or outside the homes. More than 15,000 patients from nursing homes, assisted living and adult care facilities have died since March, according to Feb. 9 state data, up from an earlier count of 8,500.
Cuomo has since acknowledged mistakes in how his administration handled the disclosure of the Covid death count at nursing homes. He insisted, though, that the numbers were accurate because the total deaths remained the same.
“I’m not going to allow people to lie to the people of New York without answering them,” Cuomo said. “I have very thick skin. I don’t really care what people say about me. I agreed to this nasty businesses because I believe I can do good things. I’m not going to let you lie to them.”
Twelve states followed federal guidance allowing Covid patients in hospitals to be sent back to nursing homes, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said. Patients, particularly seniors, should not remain in hospitals longer than necessary because of risk of secondary infection, he said.
The nursing homes were only supposed to take back patients if they could properly and safely handle them, Cuomo said.
Of 365 nursing homes that admitted a patient from a hospital between the March 25 state guidance and May 10 guidance that superseded it, 98% already had Covid cases, according to Zucker. Furthermore, there were Covid deaths in 132 nursing-home facilities that never took a Covid admission from a hospital, he said.
March 25 “was not the driver” of Covid infections or fatalities, Zucker said.
“We made the right public health decision at the time,” he said.
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