In his first public remarks since a bombshell New York Attorney General report found that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) administration vastly underreported COVID-19 deaths of nursing-home residents, the governor callously dismissed the report, saying “who cares” where thousands of senior citizens died and pivoted to blame the Trump Administration for bringing national attention that led to the probe.
“If you look at New York state, we have a lower percentage of deaths in nursing homes than other states. A third of all deaths in this nation are from nursing homes,” Cuomo said. “New York State we’re only about 28 percent only. But we’re below the national average in the number of deaths in nursing homes.”
“But who cares — 33 [percent], 28 [percent] — died in the hospital, died in a nursing home? They died,” Cuomo added.
Cuomo refused to offer some sort of apology as he deflected questions on the damning report, pointing fingers at the former federal government and its guidance the led to nursing home deaths. In his lengthy response, Cuomo called the entire investigation a politically motivated effort, specifically citing former Health and Human Services spokesman Michael Caputo, whom he called a protege of Roger Stone.
“Where this starts is frankly a political attack from prior federal administration HHS, their great spokesperson Michael Caputo who is Roger stone protege, who said, we have more nursing home deaths in New York because of something that the state health department did. This report firms everything the commissioner said for the past year,” Cuomo said.
“Everybody did the best they could. If you think there was a mistake, then go talk to the federal government. It’s not about pointing fingers or blame, this became a political football,” he added.
Despite the media gushing over the New York Governor handling of the pandemic, the state’s handling of nursing homes and their residents has been a subject of scrutiny, particularly a March 25 order by the state’s Department of Health that mandated nursing homes must not deny “re-admission or admission… solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19.” The controversial March 25 order from New York state’s website was quietly scrubbed off and replaced with an “updated guidance.”
On Thursday, New York Democratic Attorney General Letitia James announced that an investigation led by her office found that nursing home deaths from coronavirus were undercounted by about 4,000. The bombshell findings found New York Department of Health’s current tally of 8,711 deaths was misrepresented because those counts represented seniors who physically died in the nursing home and not those who also died in hospitals. Adding the count of those who were transferred to the hospital from the resident home would bring the real total count to 12,700.
The investigation backed up the findings of an Associated Press investigation from August that found New York’s count was flawed and could be understating deaths by as much as 65%, based on discrepancies between its totals and numbers being reported to federal regulators.
According to the 76-page report, more than 6,300 hospital patients were admitted to 310 nursing homes across the state during the roughly 6-week period the March 25th executive order was in effect.
“While we cannot bring back the individuals we lost to this crisis, this report seeks to offer transparency that the public deserves,” James said in a statement.
In a defensive long statement, New York state’s health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker disputed the use of the word “undercount” and defended the department’s newly released figures that put the tally of confirmed and presumed deaths in both nursing homes and hospitals at 12,743 as of Jan. 19.
“The word ‘undercount’ implies there are more total fatalities than have been reported; this is factually wrong,” Zucker wrote. “The New York State Office of the Attorney General report is clear that there was no undercount of the total death toll from this once-in-a-century pandemic,”
Zucker also said that James’ report “found no evidence” that Cuomo’s controversial March 25 directive for nursing homes to admit coronavirus patients had “resulted in additional fatalities in nursing homes.”
The department, Zucker claims “has always publicly reported the number of fatalities within hospitals irrespective of the residence of the patient, and separately reported the number of fatalities within nursing home facilities and has been clear about the nature of that reporting.”
Bipartisan criticism, both on the state and national level has called for a full dataset from the Department of Health since the summer. New York Senate Investigations and Government Operations Committee demanded Commissioner Zucker turn over a full picture of the death count in August during a legislative hearing on Covid-19 in long-term care facilities and hospitals.
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) the ranking member of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis subcommittee, said the findings constitute an “outrageous” cover-up and demanded Cuomo, whom he stated is “obfuscating facts” to turn over all of the state’s data on nursing home deaths before February 4.
New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY) has called on President Joe Biden to support a federal investigation into the matter.
“This is now more than a nursing home scandal, this is a massive corruption and coverup scandal at the highest level of New York State Government implicating the Governor, the Secretary to the Governor, the New York State Health Commissioner and the Governor’s staff,” Stefanik said in a statement.