Cuomo Defends Administration’s Handling of Nursing Homes

Governor Andrew Cuomo holds a press briefing on COVID-19 and is joined remotely by Jeffery Zients, White House COVID-19 Coordinator, February 10, 2021. (Darren McGee/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

In one of his first press conference since members of the State Assembly and state Senators have publicly called for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s pandemic executive powers to be rescinded in light of revelations how badly his administration handled excess deaths in nursing homes and how baldly they hid it, Cuomo defended his decisions.

He chose to make public statements regarding the nursing home during his press conference rather than waiting for reporters to press him on the scandal.

“First, emergency powers have nothing to do with nursing homes,” Cuomo said, in regards to complaints of executive overreach. “I have taken hundreds of actions. The Legislature can overturn any action I take.”

He claimed his strong-arming was necessary to deal with the health crisis because public health would have been slowed down by local politics. He defended the death toll in nursing homes by pointing that nursing home deaths in New York, which made up 30% of the total death toll, was significantly less than Pennsylvania or Massachusetts, where more than 50% of their death tolls from the coronavirus came from nursing homes.

Cuomo did acknowledge his administration “paused the state legislature request” for more information in order to fulfill the Department of Justice’s federal inquiry, and claimed the state Legislature was informed of the delay. “There was a delay in providing the press and the public…which should have been prioritized,” he conceded. “In retrospect, should we have given more priority to fulfilling information requests? In my opinion, yes.”

But eventually, the “New York State DOH has always fully and completely reported,” Cuomo said, referring to death tolls.

The crisis from nursing homes stemmed in large part from the administration and Department of Health’s decision to count of the deaths of nursing home residents as hospital deaths if they died in hospitals, rather than nursing homes.

He defended the administration’s decision to send patients to nursing homes as a choice made under tremendous pressure, out of fear the hospitals would be overwhelmed and doctors would be forced to ration care, as had happened in Italy. “We were in the midst of dealing with the pandemic and trying to save lives,” he said.

Cuomo then pivoted said much of the problem lay with the nursing home system itself, especially for-profit homes.

“If you’re trying to make profit, it’s too easy to sacrifice patient care. Everything becomes one or the other,” he said. “We have to implement.. nursing home reform.”

The head of a major association of New York nursing homes, however, says the state erred by focusing too much on hospitals early in the pandemic and leaving nursing homes “scrambling to safeguard their residents and staff.”

“Policymakers and legislators must stop the blame game” and work more closely with nursing homes, said Stephen Hanse, CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association and New York State Center for Assisted Living.

State lawmakers have been calling for investigations, stripping Cuomo of his emergency powers and even his resignation after new details emerged this week about why certain nursing home data wasn’t disclosed for months, despite requests from lawmakers and others.

With reporting by AP



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