Gov. Kathy Hochul met for the first time with advocates who had loved ones die in nursing homes from COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic and did something her predecessor never did.
Assemblyman Ron Kim, who lost his uncle from COVID-19 in a nursing home, says the meeting was emotional.
“The first thing she did was apologize to the families face to face,” Kim said. “The first words that came out of her mouth. That immediately, I think, lowered people's filters and allowed them to embrace the moment, tell their stories in a big way and cry about it.”
Kim says it took leadership to apologize on behalf of the state and on behalf of her predecessor, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Later in a press conference, Hochul explained why she apologized to these families.
“I apologized for the pain that those poor families had to endure,” Hochul said. “People deserve to know that their government listens, actually cares and gives a damn about them.”
Advocates outlined a list of proposals Hochul pledged she would consider.
This includes a $4 billion compensation fund for the relatives of nursing home residents who died from COVID-19.
Families who lost a loved one from the virus would be eligible for a minimum of $250,000 from this fund. Spouses and dependents would each be able to receive a minimum payment of $100,000.
Money for this fund would come from the State Treasury.
The Victims Compensation Fund is modeled after the already existing September 11 Victims Compensation Fund, which provides aid to victims of the terror attacks.
Al Aquila, an attorney at Sullivan Papain Block McGrath Coffinas & Cannavo who helps those impacted by September 11 access this fund, says this sort of compensation can provide easy relief to families instead of dragging them through a lengthy court process that is already constrained in these cases under the current law.
“You can never bring back the people you lost or make them go back to day one before their illness, but this is something that can really bring some sort of closure and some assistance to the people who need it,” Aquila explained.
When Kim was asked if he trusts Hochul to follow through on her promises, he said he does.
“She spent an hour listening, looking at pictures and putting an emotional face to the trauma and pain,” Kim said. “I don't think anyone, it doesn't matter what position you hold, you’re governor, you’re a lawmaker, I don't think any decent person can walk away from that and not feel touched.”
Kim says this victim’s compensation fund is something that will have to be worked out through the state Legislature alongside the governor.