• Thomas Parker

New York Governor Cuomo under fire for high virus deaths

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, facing increasing scrutiny regarding the state's policies that may have caused unnecessary deaths at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, said that he is responsible for management of the state and that if people are upset by what the state has done, "be upset at me."

The effort to absorb blame for the state's mismanagement of the novel coronavirus response is a new tact from Cuomo, who had been deflecting blame up until this point for the high number of virus deaths New York has suffered compared to other states.

Controversy regarding Cuomo's management of the state began following a directive for nursing homes to admit patients who had the coronavirus, causing outbreaks at those facilities.

"They don't have a right to object. That is the rule and that is the regulation, and they have to comply with that," Cuomo said at a press briefing back in April. "It's their responsibility like it's a hospital's primary responsibility."

At the time, the head of the New York State Health Facilities Association, a nursing home industry group, said in a statement that "nursing homes and assisted living providers and their residents have not been treated as a top priority for assistance with staffing, PPE shortages, and COVID-19 testing."

“This was clearly evidenced by the state’s March 25 policy mandating that nursing homes admit hospital patients into their facilities that have a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19,” CEO Stephen Hanse said.

Hanse also said, “This treacherous virus spreads through nursing homes like fire through dry grass and the state’s March 25 policy served to unnecessarily to fan the flames of this fire.”

Following an increasingly public outcry, the New York State Department of Health acknowledged that its most recent reporting does not fully reflect the death caused by the virus at nursing home and adult care facilities, where more than 5,700 residents have died from the virus.

The NYSDOH confirmed that until around April 28, it was disclosing virus deaths for all nursing home and adult care facility residents regardless of whether the patient died at the facility or at a hospital. But the department changed its reporting on around May 3, according to web archives, and now only reports virus deaths for long-term care patients who died while physically present at their facility.

The attempt by state officials to hide deaths from the state's nursing home policy did not go unnoticed, and the state is the only one that omits deaths in this manner.

Despite New York being the lone state to change its reporting, Governor Cuomo put the blame on President Trump in a press conference last weekend.

"New York followed the president's agencies' guidance," Cuomo said. "What New York did was follow what the Republican Administration said to do."

Manhattan Assembly member Richard Gottfried, a Democrat and chair of the Assembly’s health committee, is among state lawmakers calling for an independent investigation of the state's handling of the outbreak in nursing homes. He says the blame rests largely on decades of ignoring issues that became more acute during the pandemic.

“The federal government never told New York to tolerate low staffing levels in nursing homes or to have a lax or understaffed enforcement of health and safety safeguards in nursing homes,” Gottfried said. “The executive branch — going back decades — has done that all by itself.”

Florida, a state with a large elderly and vulnerable population, took the opposite approach of New York with significantly improved results. Florida Governor DeSantis made an immediate effort to remove virus-positive patients from nursing homes, a policy now regarded as the correct one.

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