Health officials in New York under disgraced former governor Andrew Cuomo “misled the public” on the number of nursing home deaths in that state during the pandemic “even after” it had corrected any discrepancies privately.
This, according to an audit released on Tuesday by the state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli.
The audit concludes that Cuomo’s Health Department failed to account for the deaths of over 4,000 seniors in nursing homes.
Then-Governor Cuomo issued an executive order on March 25th, 2020, which forced nursing homes to take on patients that had tested positive for coronavirus.
The order prohibited nursing homes from requiring incoming patients “to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.”
The audit notes that health officials almost immediately and frequently altered their defining parameters for reporting nursing home deaths to the public “with virtually no explanation.”
“All told, for the nearly 10-month period from April 2020 to February 2021, the Department (of Health) failed to account for approximately 4,100 lives lost due to COVID-19,” it says as a key finding to the report.
The state comptroller’s audit marks the third official inquiry into the scandal that concludes Cuomo’s administration significantly downplayed the number of nursing home deaths during the pandemic.
The crux of the issue comes from officials initially only counting deaths that physically took place in nursing homes, not those involving seniors who were transported to a hospital and passed away there.
The New York Times points out that hiding the true number was beneficial to Cuomo’s career.
“Those efforts coincided with Mr. Cuomo’s attempts to elevate his public image at the height of his national popularity in 2020, including through daily televised briefings and the publication of a book that burnished his response to the pandemic,” the Times reports.
The latest audit removes any doubt that the administration intentionally fudged the numbers at times.
The Times notes that “the administration was aware of the higher death toll and continued to withhold it even after it had apparently corrected most discrepancies by May 2020, a few months into the pandemic.”
The audit on Cuomo’s nursing home cover-up comes as the former Governor has been squirming his way back into the public eye for what many assume will be an attempt at a political comeback.
He has released multiple political ads in the last few weeks.
Part of the hubris involved in making such a comeback comes because Cuomo was forced to resign over sexual harassment allegations that fizzled out from a criminal aspect, and has never paid a price politically – despite three separate investigations pointing out he misled the public – over the nursing home scandal.
But, as state assemblyman Ron Kim argues, these latest findings are criminal in nature and should be treated as such.
“This is criminal public fraud that led to unnecessary deaths,” he said.
A statement by DiNapoli says the findings are indeed “troubling.”
“Our audit findings are extremely troubling,” he said. “The public was misled by those at the highest level of state government through distortion and suppression of the facts when New Yorkers deserved the truth.”
“This is the third independent report to verify his misconduct,” Kim added. “His deadly policies lead to thousands of deaths and ruined countless others.”
“He suppressed life and death data that lawmakers would have needed to truly protect all New Yorkers.”
Will this audit finally lead to accountability?
This past summer, President Biden’s Department of Justice (DOJ) declined to investigate whether the civil rights of residents in the state’s nursing homes were violated by Cuomo’s admission policy related to the pandemic.
Kathy Hochul, who replaced Cuomo as New York governor after his resignation, apologized to the families of those who lost loved ones in nursing homes. Those families expressed optimism that Hochul would pursue accountability for what happened.
Instead, Hochul’s Health Department responded to the audit by deflecting responsibility to the previous administration.
“Whatever criticisms may now be directed at the prior administration relating to issues of transparency, or the particular categories of information that were publicly disclosed, those ultimately were matters for the executive chamber of the prior administration and not department personnel,” wrote Kristin M. Proud, the department’s acting executive deputy commissioner, in a letter of response.
Hochul served as Lieutenant Governor under Cuomo, making her part of that prior administration.
“The state should provide the families who lost loved ones with answers as to the actual number of nursing homes residents who died,” DiNapoli said. “These families are still grieving, and they deserve no less.”
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