New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he should have been more aggressive in calling out what he said were critics’ 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 reporters for a complete death toll among nursing-home residents. Democratic and Republican lawmakers have accused the governor of intentionally withholding data.
The governor faces growing scrutiny over the nursing-home deaths. The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York have opened inquiries. Some state lawmakers are seeking an early end to emergency powers they awarded Cuomo at the start of the pandemic. In Congress, Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Republican Senator Charles Grassley have called for federal investigations.
“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, who represents a New York City district covering parts of the Bronx and Queens, 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 endangered healthy residents.
The state has since released data revealing thousands of nursing-home resident 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.
Last week, a top Cuomo aide admitted to lawmakers that the administration had withheld the data amid a similar request from the U.S. Justice Department.
“I said, ‘No, I’m not answering your request now,’” Cuomo said Friday, describing his response to lawmakers. “They didn’t like the answer.”
Cuomo has acknowledged mistakes in his administration’s handling of the data. He insisted, though, that the numbers were accurate, because total deaths remained the same.
On Friday, the governor proposed nursing-home reform legislation, with backing from the U.S.’s largest health-care union 1199SEIU. The proposal calls for increasing penalties for health violations, establishing a nursing-home profit cap, and requiring nursing homes spend a minimum of 70% of revenue on direct patient care. The governor said he won’t sign a budget that doesn’t include those reforms.
The third-term Democrat hit back against accusations that he had been calling detractors to bully them into backing down on their criticism over his administration’s handling of the nursing-home data. Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Democrat, has accused Cuomo of threatening to “destroy” him.
“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 business 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, state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said. Patients, particularly seniors, shouldn’t remain in hospitals longer than necessary because of risk of secondary infection, he said.
The nursing homes were supposed to take back patients only if they could properly handle them, Cuomo said.
Of 365 nursing homes that admitted patients from hospitals between the March 25 state guidance and the May 10 revision, 98% already had Covid cases, according to Zucker. Furthermore, there were Covid deaths in 132 nursing homes that never took a Covid victim from a hospital, he said.
“We made the right public-health decision at the time,” Zucker said.
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