NEW YORK NOW – Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued to blame what he said Friday is an “ongoing political attack” for the controversy over the number of nursing home deaths in New York during the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a critical report this week by the state’s attorney general.
The report by state Attorney General Tish James, a Cuomo ally, found that New York undercounted by 50% the amount of nursing home residents who died in the first surge of the pandemic last spring.
Cuomo defended his administration, saying they did not intentionally do anything wrong, including when they carried out a March 25th directive that required the homes to accept residents with COVID-19 who were discharged from the hospital. Critics have said helped spread of the virus in those facilities.
“I believe everybody did the best they could,” Cuomo said. “I believe the state department of health, they gave their best guidance and made the best decisions on the facts that they had.”
Cuomo said the controversy began during the administration of former President Donald Trump, and he blamed, among others, former Trump Assistant Health Secretary Michael Caputo, a Western New York political operative, for what he said were politically motivated attacks.
Cuomo said all the nursing home deaths were a tragedy, and he said he understands that angry and grieving relatives are simply looking for someone to blame. But he said it was “mean” of his political opponents to stir them up.
“It put a thought in your head, ‘maybe my father died unnecessarily?’, and that was just cruel to do,” Cuomo said. “Because it wasn’t true.”
Caputo, in a statement, said Cuomo’s “foolish” executive order was the “primary cause of thousands of nursing home COVID deaths in New York”. And he said the governor must be “held accountable”.
Several hours after the AG released her report, State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker responded with an updated number of deaths of nursing home residents. That data showed that more than 12,700 died, about 43% more than the state had been reporting.
Zucker, for months, had stonewalled requests by lawmakers and media to share the data, but said he changed his mind after the report.
“When I saw the Attorney General report, I decided that we needed to finish it up quickly, and get these numbers out in real time,” Zucker said.
Zucker said he had been saving the reveal of the numbers for an upcoming budget hearing in February. And he said it was “factually inaccurate” for the Attorney General to say there was an undercount of deaths. He said the deaths were counted, they were just listed with all of the others who passed away in hospitals.
“The total number of deaths has not changed,” Zucker said.
Cuomo and Zucker also cast blame on the nursing homes themselves, saying it was up to the homes to give the state health department the correct numbers. The governor said the attorney general’s report found that the data from the nursing homes was “sketchy”, and that the health department is continuing to audit those numbers.