Top aides to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) successfully pushed state health officials to obscure the true number of COVID-related deaths of nursing home residents in its public report, according to reports revealed late Thursday from the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
Cuomo’s top aides —who also were members of his Covid-19 task force that had no public health expertise “were alarmed” at the initial July report version that included toll counts on both the number of nursing-home residents who died in hospitals and deaths of residents inside nursing homes. According to sources familiar with the matter who told the Times and the Journal, officials possessed the full total count that saw more nearly 10,000 nursing home deaths by July of last year and Cuomo’s aide intervened in great lengths to keep it disclosed and out of the public view.
As the governor’s aides successfully coerced the state’s health professionals into omitting the real data numbers from its key July report, Cuomo was focused on himself as he was riding high off his national popularity due to his daily televised news briefings. At the same time, his team was fudging the COVID death number data, Cuomo somehow found the time to write a book on his “leadership” he dubbed as a pandemic achievement, despite the fact New York was leading the nation in the highest per positive cases reported, hospitalization and capita death count, the Times reported.
The 33-page report, from the State Health Department, was a product of their investigation that examined the factors that led to the spread of the virus in nursing homes. Despite the governor being praised by the media for his so-called “leadership” over his tight control over the state, Cuomo began to deal with criticism for his handling of nursing homes that contribute to the nation’s highest death toll.
State lawmakers and relatives of those who lost loved ones charged Cuomo for his dangerous March 25 directive as the reason for the spread of the virus. The controversial directive barred nursing homes from denying admission solely due to a patient having a Covid diagnosis. It also barred facilities from even testing the discharged patients returning to see if one still had the virus. The directive was aimed at boosting hospital capacity to handle a predicted surge of patients as cases in the state were surging at an alarming rate during the early days of the pandemic.
The state’s analysis was based partly on what officials acknowledged at the time as an imprecise statistic. In removing the data of deaths of residents who died in hospital, the changes publicly reported that only 6,432 nursing-home residents died from COVID in facilities as being the true death count and largely defended the controversial directive.
It concluded that the policy played no role in spreading the virus, claiming that nursing homes were “already rife with the virus by the time of the March 25 policy” while attributing the spread to infected staff workers whom they blame were the asymptomatic carriers.
According to the Wall Street Journal, while health department officials agreed to remove that data, they resisted Cuomo aides’ requests to alter the report to play down the role of the March 25 directive in the spread of the virus. The draft of the initial report was prepared by Dr. Eleanor Adams, the Health Department lead, but it was heavily rewritten by Jim Malatras, a former top adviser temporarily re-recruited by Cuomo to be apart of his COVID team. The edited version sought to invalidate the mounting criticism the governor was receiving over the March 25 directive.
State officials acknowledged that the true number of deaths was higher because of the exclusion of patients who died in hospitals, but they declined for months to cough up any data, saying the numbers still needed to be verified.
“While early versions of the report included out of facility deaths, the COVID task force was not satisfied that the data had been verified against hospital data and so the final report used only data for in facility deaths, which was disclosed in the report,” Department of Health Spokesperson Gary Holmes said.
Just a day after the report was finally released, New York lawmakers and Congressional Republicans began calling for hearings and requesting complete data. Scientists, health care professionals, and elected officials assailed the report findings for its flawed methodology, bias analysis, and selective stats that sidestepped addressed the real impact of the March 25 order. Some accused the state of using the “veneer of a scientific study” to exonerate Cuomo in reaching the same conclusion he had been floating for weeks.
Following the release of the July report that flatly declared the controversial directive was “not a significant factor,” Cuomo treated the issue done and resolved as his internal report was fact-based, thus allowing him to falsely claim New York had done an outstanding job protecting its most vulnerable. Four days after the report came out, the governor revealed that he is writing a book.
“This is going to be a period to learn from. I am now thinking about writing a book about what we went through, lessons learned, the entire experience because if we don’t learn from this then it will really compound the whole crisis that we’ve gone through,” Cuomo said in a radio interview on July 10, adding he cut back doing the daily national presser because “there’s not a lot of free time. This COVID takes a lot of time still.”
At that time the governor was already “seeking formal approval from a state ethics agency to earn outside income from book sales,” the Times reported, citing “a person with knowledge of his planning at the time.” The book titled “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic” was published three months later ahead of the 2020 election. It became a New York Times bestseller and Amazon gave the once-popular Democrat the honor of making his book an “Editors’ Pick” in its nonfiction section.
The relative low nursing-home death toll data reported also gave Cuomo bragging rights in comparing his numbers to other northeastern states when measured as a percentage-wise of the overall population. However, the other states who also had similar March 25 directive provided the full scope of both nursing-homes residents who died in hospitals, as well as those who died inside nursing homes in reporting the total data.
In late January, New York Attorney General Letitia James released a damning report that revealed the administration were undercounting the true data of nursing home resident death toll by over 50 percent. The discrepancy, according to the AG the report was the result of the Cuomo administration not disclosing how many nursing home residents died in hospitals.
The report forced the state Department of Health to cough up the true totals after eight months of stonewalling both state and federal lawmakers, the media, and defeated an FOIA act lawsuit from the Empire Center, a fiscally conservative think tank based in Albany that sought a complete account of the COVID nursing home death count. Based on the AG report, the true total revealed that more than 15,000 nursing home residents are now reported to have died in both the facilities and those who were transferred to the hospital. It also revealed that Cuomo’s directive to nursing homes “may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities.”
DeRosa admitted earlier last month to state Democratic lawmakers that the administration didn’t provide Albany the data requested in August because of “fear” it would be used against them by the Trump administration. Her bombshell revelation was first reported to The New York Post and now has triggered a preliminary investigation from the FBI and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn into the Cuomo’s administration handling nursing home residents.
“Basically, we froze because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice or what we give to you guys and what we start saying was going to be used against us,” DeRosa told Democratic leaders.
The Health Department updated the report on Feb. 11 to include both out-of-facility deaths of nursing-home residents, claiming the conclusions remained unchanged by the input of the new data.