This week, calls for subpoenas and investigations related to the deaths of seniors at nursing homes around the state reached a fever pitch.
On Wednesday, a group of Democratic lawmakers, Senators Skoufis, May, and Rivera, met with Cuomo administration officials to discuss questions about nursing home deaths that they had posed to the administration months ago.
Here, in part, is the statement they released after the meeting:
“While we appreciate that our letter from August 2020 has finally been answered and, two weeks ago, nursing home data was released, it is unacceptable that it took so long. Our original letter was sent following 40 hours of hearing testimony and after so many legislators, families, and members of the public demanded answers.”
After Attorney General James’ report was released, Democratic members of the Legislature were reportedly outraged.
The New York Post reported that several members of the state Assembly called Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker a “liar” during a video conference call.
That outrage has manifested in several members of the Majority conferences in each house calling to rescind the governor’s executive powers.
Republicans have been more pointedly aggressive in their attacks on the administration and the governor.
Almost daily for the last several weeks, Republicans from one or both legislative houses have demanded data, subpoenas, hearings and investigations into nursing home deaths in New York.
On Thursday, Assembly Republicans held a Zoom press during which they expressed dismay that the meeting between the administration and the three Senators discussed above was both “secret” and “political” for excluding Republicans.
During the same press conference, Republicans called on individual Democratic members of the Assembly Investigations committee to compel a subpoena for Dr. Zucker.
While Zucker is scheduled to testify before a joint budget committee hearing later this month, the Assembly minority is calling for a separate hearing into the Department of Health’s role in nursing home deaths.
Cuomo, Zucker and members of the administration have been dragged through the mud and even called “murderers” for their role in nursing home deaths.
I was early to coronavirus- back when media said it was flu.— Mike Cernovich (@Cernovich) February 7, 2021
New data came in.
Florida is the right approach.
DeSantis is a hero.
Cuomo murdered the elderly.
Newsom destroyed California.
That’s the true story of COVID-19.
This kind of rhetoric is irresponsible and dangerous in light of what happened in Washington in January.
The lines have been drawn and outrage expressed. But what is the Cuomo administration really responsible for here?
If you dissect what has angered politicians and the public about this entire situation, it comes down to three things: A bad decision, a lack of transparency and a lack of remorse.
The bad decision was the Cuomo administration advisory of March 25 that stated that nursing homes “must comply with the expedited receipt of residents” coming from hospitals, regardless of whether they are infected with COVID-19.
When repeatedly asked about this order, the governor stated that he was simply following “President Trump’s CDC guidance.”
But according to Politifact, a week before the state’s advisory, the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Report looked at a facility in Washington State and directly countermanded that order.
“The report’s authors recommended that ‘in the context of rapidly escalating COVID-19 outbreaks in much of the United States, it is critical that long-term care facilities implement active measures to prevent introduction of COVID-19.”
Politifact also cited a top administrator at the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services who pushed back on the governor’s claim that the state was following federal guidance.
At this point, had the administration taken responsibility, the second two mistakes could have been avoided.
Remember, in May and June the governor was being buoyed by record high job approval numbers, and frequent adulation from the national media, much of it deserved. He could have, and should have, spent some of that political capital on simply apologizing and owning this mistake.
Instead, when reporters, lawmakers and other began asking about the March 25 order, the governor would, by turns, attack the questioner as a partisan or, even worse, tell the questioner he or she was politicizing the virus.
The period at the end of this insult was the release of the very data reporters and lawmakers had been seeking for six months not an hour after the Attorney General released her preliminary investigation.
Her report underscored that the March 25 order may have put nursing home residents at risk.
She also, rightly, pointed to lousy staffing rates and infection control at our state’s nursing homes, which are regulated by the Cuomo administration.
But, to be clear, not every nursing home death can be laid at the feet of Andrew Cuomo and Howard Zucker. As painful as it is to have to say goodbye to our loved ones via Skype or Zoom, the enemy is the virus.
During Thursday’s Zoom conference call with the Assembly Republicans, Gelsey Randazzo Markese recalled the death of her 91-year-old grandmother in December of 2020 at the Edna Tina Wilson Living Center in Greece.
Since the governor issued new guidance for nursing homes in mid-May, it’s hard to accept that the March 25 order could be responsible for Randazzo Markese’s grandmother’s death.
What the administration is responsible for is regulating nursing homes, which appear to have been allowed to operate without much oversight for years prior to the pandemic.
Perhaps the governor will learn from his mistakes around transparency and take responsibility, and even express remorse, for not better regulating nursing homes.
Then, he should take action, which he is known for.