House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) on Thursday ramped up his criticism of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the nursing home COVID-19 deaths, alleging Cuomo “lied about the death toll” and releasing a timeline of the alleged cover-up.
“The facts are simple: Governor Cuomo issued an order sending thousands of contagious COVID-19 positive patients into nursing homes and then he lied about the death toll,” Scalise said in a statement.
The COVID-related nursing home deaths have been a flashpoint for criticism against Cuomo, who faced public outcry over a controversial March 25, 2020, directive—subsequently reversed in May, 2020—essentially prohibiting nursing home operators from refusing to accept residents even if they tested positive for COVID-19.
“No resident shall be denied readmission or admission to a nursing home solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19,” the order stated.
Under the order, if hospital staff determined residents were medically stable, nursing homes were prohibited from requiring that the patient be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission. Experts warned at the time that the order would lead to a surge in COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
Scalise said in the timeline that, on May 10, 2020, “Cuomo quietly rescinds the March 25th directive and removes it from New York’s public website.”
Cuomo’s new order, issued in May, required hospitals to keep elderly COVID-19 patients until a negative test was confirmed or move them to another state-run facility that wasn’t a nursing home.
Scalise, who is also a ranking member of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, said that Cuomo’s March 25, 2020, order endangered the lives of the “most vulnerable” New Yorkers, “which resulted in the deaths of thousands of nursing home patients and caused unimaginable grief for their families and loved ones.”
New York’s COVID-19 nursing home death toll numbers soared by thousands following a disclosure released on Feb. 10 that was prompted by a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) application by the Empire Center think tank.
“Those revelations increased the known death toll from about 9,000 to almost 15,000—making clear that the pandemic’s toll on long-term care residents was much worse than the Cuomo administration previously portrayed it to be,” the Empire Center said in a statement.
The Republican congressman’s timeline also highlights a number of occasions on which Cuomo’s administration ignored requests for data around COVID-19 deaths in New York’s nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. The most recent is on Feb. 19, according to Scalise, when Select Subcommittee Republicans sent a letter to Cuomo, “again requesting communications and data about his lethal order, after his top aide admitted to hiding the true nursing home data from the U.S. Congress, the New York State Legislature, and possibly the Department of Justice for the purposes of avoiding accountability and prosecution.”
“Governor Cuomo ignored this request,” Scalise wrote.
Scalise’s reference to a top aide admitting to “hiding the true nursing home data” presumably pertains to Cuomo’s secretary Melissa DeRosa suggesting on a recent conference call with state legislators that the Cuomo administration withheld how many nursing home residents died from COVID-19 because they feared the numbers would “be used against us” by prosecutors. At the time, the Justice Department was probing nursing home deaths in four states, including New York.
Another notable milestone in the timeline is July 6, 2020, when the New York State Department of Health issued what Scalise described as “a sham report that was reviewed and edited by staff of Governor Cuomo absolving him of all blame and instead blaming the front-line health workers for bringing COVID-19 into nursing homes.”
The report (pdf) Scalise referred to in his timeline corroborated Cuomo’s insistence that it was not his March 25, 2020, directive that exacerbated the spread of COVID-19 in New York’s long-term care facilities, but rather infected nursing home staff. Cuomo has repeatedly rejected links between the since-repealed March 2020 policy and the thousands of nursing home deaths in the state.
New York Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said at a press conference following the release of the report that admission policies were not a significant factor in virus-related nursing home deaths, and called attempts to blame the fatalities on the March 2020 executive order a “false narrative.”
Scalise’s timeline concludes with a Feb. 24 entry indicating a bipartisan effort to issue subpoenas that would compel Cuomo’s testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform regarding his controversial order.
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