The New York State Legislature will be holding two joint hearings next month on the effect COVID-19 had on New York’s nursing homes.
Senator James Skoufis, who leads the Investigations Committee in the Senate, is co-chairing these hearings.
“This is about the legislature taking a sober, objective, rational, look at what happened and genuinely try to glean what worked and what didn’t work and how to better prepare ourselves,” Skoufis said.
More than 6,000 nursing home residents have passed away from COVID-19 since March.
Many have pointed the blame to the state’s early policies such as the controversial March 25 guidance allowing COVID-positive residents to be admitted into nursing homes and allowing asymptomatic staff to keep working.
Senator Jim Tedisco currently has his own bill in the legislature that would form a bipartisan investigation into these policies. He does not believe these hearings set up by the Democratic majority are independent enough.
“I am not totally convinced that these hearings will be totally bipartisan,” Tedisco said. “But we need more than a hearing. We need an outside independent investigation. And I can tell it’s a very sensitive thing to be able to do that and the governor is probably rallying the troops to not let that happen in a legislative way because it took two and a half weeks to get a bill number to do exactly that.”
Republicans say they are also worried state officials will either not show up to these hearings or they will withhold information.
However, Skoufis says that he is not afraid to subpoena who he needs to in order to bring to the table those who had a direct hand in these nursing home policies.
“I fully expect that not only the Department of Health and the executive chamber itself will be participating in the hearings,” Skoufis explained. “I do expect senior staff in the executive chamber to participate. These are the folks who had their hands on the day to day activity of the virus response and frankly they are the best people to hear from at these hearings.”
Skoufis says there will most likely be legislative action proposed once these hearings wrap up and depending on what they find, he says there will be accountability.
“While we are not prosecutors as legislators, we can’t go around handcuffing people. But if we find legal impropriety, certainly the attorney general, district attorneys, can use what information that we reveal as part of our efforts for the eventual efforts of theirs,” Skoufis said.
But Tedisco says he has his doubts and questions why Democratic lawmakers postponed these hearings to next month.
“You know what might be more important to come out of this? More questions than answers,” Tedisco insisted. “Because when there are more questions than answers that will illustrate we do need an outside independent investigation.”
The hearings are planned for August 3 and August 7.