An audit of New York state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic which, so far, has cost almost $2 million, included inaccurate information, may not have consulted with key players in the state Department of Health and falsely claimed that the state comptroller’s office didn’t consult with the DOH before releasing its own audit in 2022.

Additionally, according to reporting by The Albany Times Union, the Olson Group will not discuss its findings because the firm signed a nondisclosure agreement with the Hochul administration.

The Olson Group sustained another black eye by using research done by Bill Hammond, the Empire Center’s senior fellow for health policy, but not attributing the work to him.

In a conversation with Capital Tonight, Hammond said the seriousness of the pandemic, the fact that 80,000 people died, and that the economy was thrown into chaos are all reasons it’s critically important the state have a serious, “unfettered” review of what happened. 

“The governor hired a consulting firm from Virginia, the Olson Group. It was answerable to her, and they didn’t give it subpoena power. So, it ended up not being able to talk to all the people it needed to talk to. It ended up ignoring entire subjects because they were too politically sensitive and then, on top of that, they handed in a report that’s full of factual errors, typos, it’s kind of sloppily printed. It’s really disappointing to say the least,” Hammond stated. 

The report was also late.

In one respect, the state’s hands were tied by the requirement that any consulting group hired to produce the report was not involved with the state’s COVID-19 response, which eliminated some of the country’s largest consulting firms.

Asked about the report recently, Gov. Kathy Hochul said, “We knew that things had to be done differently, they had to be done better and we had to prepare for the possibility that this would happen again.”

While acknowledging that the report was good to have, the governor’s office noted that because of the report’s delay, the administration had already implemented several dozen “After Action Reports” to ensure New York is ready for another possible pandemic. These include an increase in funding for the state Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and a $1.7 billion investment in a new research lab.

Other steps taken by the state include continuing to maintain emergency stockpiles and creating a new Public Health Risk Communication Course with Cornell University.

Among the steps the state is expecting to take soon include funding pandemic response training programs through the Office of Emergency Management and continuing to improve healthcare system coordination through DOH’s surge and flex planning.

Asked if he believes the state is prepared for another COVID-like event, Hammond was skeptical.

“I have my doubts, because we haven’t had any kind of reckoning with what happened,” he said.