Disputing reports that he withheld numbers about nursing home deaths from Covid-19, the New York governor reportedly threatened one state assemblyman for asking questions.
MANHATTAN (CN) — Already under fire from state officials over his handling of nursing home data on Covid-19 deaths, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo caught more heat Friday from Congress.
“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,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement.
The Bronx congresswoman backed calls for a full investigation into the matter after state Attorney General Letitia James released a 52-page report last month that said the state Department of Health’s total nursing home death data omitted the many nursing home residents who were transferred to a hospital before dying of Covid-19.
Ocasio-Cortez expressed support for state legislators who have pressed Cuomo about the data handling, and proposed legislation to strip the governor’s emergency executive powers allowed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers lost their lives in nursing homes throughout the pandemic,” she said. “Their loved ones and the public deserve answers and transparency from their elected leadership, and the Secretary to the Governor’s remarks warrant a full investigation.”
In the state Legislature, a bill introduced by Senator Alessandra Biaggi calls to immediately revoke “the extension of emergency powers granted to the governor related to the outbreak of [Covid-19].” A New York Times report says the measure could be voted on as early as next week,
It was back on March 25, 2020 — as the reality of the coronavirus pandemic began took hold of New York and much of the globe — that Cuomo issued an advisory instructing nursing homes to admit patients who had Covid-19.
State health officials say that decision was based on federal guidance at the time, and helped communities where hospitals were short on beds.
But the move caused an increase in resident deaths from the coronavirus, according to a report published Thursday by the nonprofit think tank Empire Center. Admitting any new Covid-19 patients was linked to an average of 4.2 deaths per facility. The effect was worse in upstate New York, and increased as each patient was admitted, researchers found.
The Albany Times Union reported Wednesday that the FBI and prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York have opened an investigation into Cuomo’s handling of nursing home data — a probe that is said to be in its early stages.
In the meantime, Cuomo has insisted that he made all information about nursing-home related deaths publicly available — and said those reporting otherwise are lying.
“This information of total deaths was provided always,” Cuomo said during a press briefing on Friday. “It is a lie to say any numbers were inaccurate. That is a lie.”
He also said his office opted to pause the request for information by Democratic state legislators, because a separate request by the Department of Justice took priority.
“Some state legislators were offended that they weren’t given precedence,” read a slide displayed behind Cuomo as he spoke, followed by the words “That’s right.”
Among the state legislators pushing Cuomo has been Queens Assemblyman Ron Kim, whose uncle, a nursing home resident, died of Covid-19 last spring. Kim said Cuomo called him after the legislator began asking questions, threatening to “destroy” him.
“He goes off about how I hadn’t seen his wrath and anger, that he would destroy me and he would go out tomorrow and start telling how bad of a person I am and I would be finished and how he had bit his tongue about me for months,” Kim said. “This was all yelling. It wasn’t a pleasant tone.”
Compounding the accusations against Cuomo is a provision tucked into the governor’s April 2020 budget package, which offers hospital and nursing home executives a legal shield against lawsuits from sickness or death caused by the coronavirus.
Appearing on page 347 of the budget, many lawmakers were unaware of the immunity for the executives, the Times reported. Cuomo has received more than $1 million in donations from the Greater New York Hospital Association, which itself drafted the protections included in Cuomo’s budget.
Cuomo’s office denied at the time that the protections were intended to single out nursing homes in particular, despite critics warning that without the threat of private lawsuits, nursing homes had less incentive to address concerns about safety during the pandemic.
“This legislation is not intended to shield any bad-acting facilities during this tragic time, but rather to ensure facilities could continue to function in the face of potential shortages and other evolving challenges the pandemic presented,” said Dani Lever, a spokesperson for Cuomo.