NEW YORK NOW: While he isn’t taking a position publicly, Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin said Wednesday that he and Gov. Kathy Hochul have spoken extensively about the future of State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.
There have been calls for Zucker’s removal since Hochul took office over decisions he made during the COVID-19 pandemic, like decisions related to nursing homes.
“Listen, I share my opinions with the governor. You’re not going to get me in trouble out here, and we’ve talked about this extensively,” Benjamin said.
Calls for Zucker’s resignation gained traction in January when state Attorney General Letitia James released a report on the state’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic.
The report suggested the state may have under-reported the number of nursing home residents who died from COVID-19 by as much as 50%.
That was partly because the Cuomo administration excluded nursing home residents from that count who were transferred to a hospital before they died. The state, at the time, also left out residents who were presumed to have died from the virus, but not confirmed.
The AG’s report also said a directive from the administration, barring facilities from turning away residents based on a positive COVID diagnosis, may have contributed to the spread of the virus in nursing homes.
That report led to subsequent debate about what qualifies as a nursing home death, and calls for additional transparency.
In the following weeks, then-Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa told a group of Democratic lawmakers the administration “froze” on delivering data, due to fear of political retribution from the Trump administration.
Those events precipitated growing calls for Zucker’s firing, or resignation, from members of both parties. He still remains in his position as head of the agency.
When Gov. Hochul took office, she said anyone accused of unethical behavior would not be a part of her administration, seemingly in reference to the sexual harassment allegations detailed in a second report by the AG in early August.
The fallout from that report led to the eventual resignation of former Gov. Cuomo, but with certain holdovers remaining, like Zucker.
For the time being, Lt. Gov. Benjamin said, “I would stay tuned.”