- By Steve Bittenbender | The Center Square/February 15th, 2021
(The Center Square) – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that the state’s delay in reporting data about nursing home deaths due to COVID-19 was a mistake that allowed for misinformation to fill the void and create confusion about the situation.
Still, he said “there is nothing to investigate” regarding his administration’s handling of the issue during a pandemic that he said stretched resources thin in trying to answer the many information requests it received.
“We should have done a better job of providing as much information as we could as quickly as we could. … No excuses, I accept responsibility for that,” Cuomo said.
The remarks were the first from the governor since the bombshell New York Post report came out last week in which it was revealed that Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa told Democratic legislators it withheld information regarding nursing home deaths out of fear it could be used in a federal investigation.
He claimed some of the misinformation regarded the March 25, 2020, order from the state Department of Health requiring nursing homes to admit medically stable patients from hospitals, even those with COVID-19. That order came as the state faced 140,000 people needing hospitalization and fewer than 50,000 beds available statewide.
On Monday, the governor said the nursing homes had to agree it could handle those patients. However, a web archive of the order stated that all facilities had to fulfill requests from hospitals and could not deny acceptance “solely” on a COVID-19 diagnosis.
Of the more than 600 nursing homes in New York, the governor said only 365 received hospital patients. He insisted that 98 percent already had COVID-19 within their facility before they took a hospital patient.
The nursing home order, which was eventually pulled on May 10, 2020, came as coronavirus deaths spiked in the state. However, Cuomo also said the rate of death in nursing homes due to COVID-19 has remained the same throughout the pandemic.
For nearly a year, the Cuomo administration did not count nursing home residents who were eventually sent to a hospital with COVID-19 and died at the hospital as a nursing home death. That changed after Attorney General Letitia James issued a report late last month that used a sampling of nursing home reports to reveal differences between what those facilities reported and what the state publicized.
A few days later, a state judge ordered the DOH to provide the nursing home information to the Empire Center, a public records request the state had delayed in fulfilling for months.
New York’s handling of nursing homes prompted federal inquiries last summer. That included a U.S. Department of Justice inquiry in August into New York and other states. State lawmakers also sought information from state officials regarding the matter at the same time.
Cuomo said the DOJ inquiry took precedence and that state officials relayed that to legislative staff. That inquiry requested a response within 14 days.
“I’m sure there was a breakdown in communication now between the staff in the house and the actual legislators,” Cuomo said.
Several state lawmakers and their staff members, including Democrats, pushed back almost immediately on Cuomo’s comments.
Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, D-Manhattan, said in a series of tweets that Cuomo is undermining the public’s trust and that lawmakers did not know of a federal inquiry.
“I didn’t accept this behavior from Trump, and I don’t accept it from the Governor,” she said.
Mike Whyland, communications director for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, said the Bronx Democrat did not know of an “official” federal investigation.
“Let me be clear, the Governor’s office reached out to staff and said they needed more time to supply information requested by the members,” Whyland said. “They were not asking for permission and it wasn’t a negotiation. It was merely a heads up.”
State Sen. Jessica Ramos, D-Queens, said Cuomo and his staff need to be subpoenaed.
Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt said Cuomo’s claim that state officials were busy seemed hollow considering the governor had time to publish a book on the pandemic instead of revealing the nursing home information.
“The governor seems incapable of comprehending that it was his administration at fault, and nobody else,” said Ortt, R-North Tonawanda.