Andrew Cuomo is under fire… finally… after a top aide ‘apologized’ for withholding the true death counts in New York nursing homes after deliberately sending infected patients there, instead of the Navy hospital ship.
Governor Cuomo’s top aide privately apologized to Democratic lawmakers for withholding the state’s nursing-home death toll from COVID-19 — telling them “we froze” out of fear the true numbers would “be used against us” by federal prosecutors, The Post has learned.
The stunning admission of a cover-up was made by Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa during a video conference call with state Democratic leaders in which she said the Cuomo administration had rebuffed a legislative request for the tally in August because “right around the same time, [President Donald Trump] turns this into a giant political football,” according to an audio recording of the two-hour-plus meeting.
“He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes,” DeRosa said. “He starts going after [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy, starts going after [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom, starts going after [Michigan Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer.”
In addition to attacking Cuomo’s fellow Democratic governors, DeRosa said, Trump “directs the Department of Justice to do an investigation into us.”
“And basically, we froze,” she told the lawmakers on the call.
“Because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice, or what we give to you guys, what we start saying, was going to be used against us while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation.”
DeRosa added: “That played a very large role into this.”
After dropping the bombshell, DeRosa asked for “a little bit of appreciation of the context” and offered what appears to be the Cuomo administration’s first apology for its handling of nursing homes amid the pandemic.
But instead of a mea culpa to the grieving family members of more than 13,000 dead seniors or the critics who say the Health Department spread COVID-19 in the care facilities with a March 25 state Health Department directive that nursing homes admit infected patients, DeRosa tried to make amends with the fellow Democrats for the political inconvenience it caused them.
“So we do apologize,” she said. “I do understand the position that you were put in. I know that it is not fair. It was not our intention to put you in that political position with the Republicans.”
Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) immediately rejected DeRosa’s expression of remorse, according to the recording.
“I don’t have enough time today to explain all the reasons why I don’t give that any credit at all,” said Gottfried, one of the lawmakers who demanded the death-toll data in August.
State Senate Aging Committee Chairwoman Rachel May (D-Syracuse) — who was battered during her re-election bid last year over the issue of nursing-home deaths — also ripped into DeRosa, saying her former opponent had launched another broadside earlier in the day.
“And the issue for me, the biggest issue of all is feeling like I needed to defend — or at least not attack — an administration that was appearing to be covering something up,” she said.
“And in a, in a pandemic, when you want the public to trust the public-health officials, and there is this clear feeling that they’re not coming, being forthcoming with you, that is really hard and it remains difficult.”
Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens), who took part in the call, told The Post on Thursday that DeRosa’s remarks sounded “like they admitted that they were trying to dodge having any incriminating evidence that might put the administration or the [Health Department] in further trouble with the Department of Justice.”
“That’s how I understand their reasoning of why they were unable to share, in real time, the data,” Kim said.
“They had to first make sure that the state was protected against federal investigation.”
Kim, whose uncle is presumed to have died of COVID-19 in a nursing home in April, also said he wasn’t satisfied with DeRosa’s apology.
“It’s not enough how contrite they are with us,” he said. “They need to show that to the public and the families — and they haven’t done that.”
In addition to stonewalling lawmakers on the total number of nursing home residents killed by COVID-19, Cuomo’s administration also refused requests from the news media — including The Post — and fought a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by the Empire Center on Public Policy.
Instead, it only disclosed data on the numbers of residents who died in their nursing homes.
But after Attorney General Letitia James last month released a damning report that estimated the deaths of nursing-home residents in hospitals would boost the grim tally by more than 50 percent, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker finally released figures showing the combined total was 12,743 as of Jan. 19.
Just a day earlier, the DOH was only publicly acknowledging 8,711 deaths in nursing homes.
In a Wednesday letter to lawmakers, Zucker said the total number of nursing home residents killed by COVID-19 had increased to 13,297 That number jumps to 15,049 when assisted living/adult care facilities are factored in.
“Who cares [if they] died in the hospital, died in a nursing home? They died,” he said.
During Wednesday’s conference call, DeRosa said it appeared the DOJ was no longer focused on New York’s nursing home deaths.
“All signs point to they are not looking at this, they’ve dropped it,” she said.
The DOJ declined to comment.
Had to go back and check. This tweet was 9 months ago. https://t.co/OaAv7ArL9y
— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) February 12, 2021
How anyone still listens to this laughingstock is a mystery to me. 👇 https://t.co/lhCF1t6JoN
— Catturd ™ (@catturd2) February 12, 2021
— @amuse (@amuse) February 12, 2021
This isn't some big mystery
Cuomo didn't use the USNS Comfort or Javits Center because he didn't want Trump to get credit
He sent 9,000 infected patients into the nursing homes instead
— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) February 12, 2021
The new disclosure, released on Feb. 10, was prompted by a FOIL application by the Empire Center, a 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 data shows that there were 6,344 confirmed and 2,981 presumed in-facility COVID-19 deaths and another 4,775 confirmed out-of-facility deaths.
The COVID-19 death toll associated with New York long-term care facilities is higher, the Empire Center said, as the data does not include some 600 presumed out-of-facility COVID-19 deaths.
It comes amid reports that, during a video conference call, Cuomo’s top aide allegedly apologized to state Democratic lawmakers for withholding the state’s COVID-19 nursing-home death toll, according to The New York Post.
New York GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy criticized the Cuomo administration’s reported admission of a cover-up.
“The second most powerful person in state government and top aide to Governor Cuomo admitted on video to the premeditated and willful violation of state laws and what clearly amounts to federal obstruction of justice,” Langworthy said in a statement. “Andrew Cuomo has abused his power and destroyed the trust placed in the office of governor. Prosecution and impeachment discussions must begin right away.”
Meanwhile, records obtained by The Associated Press show that 9,056 recovering COVID-19 patients in New York state were released from hospitals into nursing homes early in the pandemic under a controversial directive that was later scrapped amid criticism it accelerated outbreaks.
The revelation raises new questions as to whether a March 25 directive from Cuomo’s administration helped spread sickness and death among residents, a charge the state disputes.
“The lack of transparency and the meting out of bits of important data has undermined our ability to both recognize the scope and severity of what’s going on” and address it, said Richard Mollot, the executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, a residents advocacy group, in remarks to The Associated Press.
The COVID-related nursing home deaths have been a flashpoint for criticism against Cuomo, who faced public outcry over a controversial March 25 directive—subsequently reversed in May—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 said.
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.
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.
Cuomo has repeatedly rejected links between the since-repealed policy and the thousands of nursing home deaths in the state. Last year, the Cuomo administration flatly denied the allegations.
“Admission policies to nursing homes were not a significant factor in nursing home fatalities. And data suggests that nursing home quality is not a factor in mortality from COVID.”
A state Department of Health study (pdf) corroborated this stance, concluding that it was infected nursing home staff that fanned the spread.
“This study highlighted a critically important fact that the overwhelming majority of hospital patients sent back into nursing homes were not only medically stable, they were no longer contagious, and that 81 percent of the nursing homes receiving COVID patients from New York’s hospitals already had the virus,” said Michael Dowling, CEO of Northwell Health, in a release.
New York Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said at a press conference following the release of a 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 25 executive order a “false narrative.”
However, questions have been raised about the reliability and impartiality of the study, and a number of lawmakers have called for a probe.
Meanwhile, Harvard University health care policy professor David Grabowski told NBC New York in an interview in August of last year that he believes the March 25 directive fanned the flames of the outbreak in nursing homes but was probably not the main factor.
“Did the policy increase fatalities in the state?” Grabowski said of the executive order. “It probably did. I just don’t think it was the primary driver.”
— Elise Stefanik (@EliseStefanik) February 12, 2021