NY lawmaker calls for hearings into COVID-19 nursing home deaths as pressure mounts on Cuomo

A Democratic state lawmaker is demanding hearings into COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes in New York State as Governor Andrew Cuomo comes under more pressure to appoint an independent investigation.

‘We need to get to the truth,’ State Senator Leroy Comrie was quoted as saying by the New York Post on Sunday.

‘Clearly mistakes were made. We want full disclosure on what the hell happened from A to Z.’

The state senator who represents the 14th State Senate District in Queens said: ‘I’m personally pushing for the Legislature to hold hearings on the nursing home mess, It’s a mess. No doubt about it.

‘We need to drill down to find out what happened so it doesn’t happen again.’ has reached out to both Comrie and Cuomo’s office seeking comment.

Governor Andrew Cuomo

State Senator Leroy Comrie (left) of Queens is demanding hearings into COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes in New York State as Governor Andrew Cuomo (right) comes under pressure.

New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim (above), who also represents Queens, has also called for an independent inquiry into the nursing home scandal. Last week, Kim accused Cuomo of threatening to 'destroy' him

New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim (above), who also represents Queens, has also called for an independent inquiry into the nursing home scandal. Last week, Kim accused Cuomo of threatening to ‘destroy’ him

New York’s attorney general issued a report that said the Cuomo administration minimized the number of nursing home residents who died of COVID-19 by excluding those who died elsewhere, usually a hospital.

This was significant because of a Cuomo administration directive in March that nursing homes should not deny admission or readmission to a patient because they had COVID-19. The policy was rescinded two months later.

Keeping the true number of nursing home residents who died hidden would theoretically deflect any blame for a bad policy choice. 

The governor has blamed staff entering nursing homes for spreading the virus to the vulnerable population, not patients brought in with COVID-19. 

He has said it would be discriminatory not to let those patients into nursing homes.

Last week, it was revealed that an aide to Cuomo told New York legislators that the true picture of nursing home deaths wasn’t revealed for fear it would be used against the governor during an investigation launched by Trump’s Justice Department.

Another state lawmaker, Assembly Member Ron Kim, said last week that Cuomo had vowed to ‘destroy’ him during a recent private phone call for criticism he felt was unfair.

Cuomo denied the allegation, then used a call with reporters on Wednesday to blast Kim, one of nine Democrats who signed a letter seeking support for the proposal to limit his emergency powers, which are set to expire this spring.

Gov. Cuomo’s nursing home strategy directly caused 1,000 COVID-19 deaths, says watchdog

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s nursing home policy may have led to the deaths of 1,000 vulnerable people from COVID-19, according to a new study.

Cuomo and his administration are in increasingly hot water for allegedly hiding the amount of nursing home deaths early in the pandemic, and a study by the Empire Center for Public Policy validates the concerns around the numbers reported.

In the study, which was obtained by the New York Post, Cuomo’s original strategy that told nursing homes to take COVID-19 patients from the hospital is linked to ‘several hundred and possibly more than 1,000’ deaths.

The study said: ‘The findings contradict a central conclusion of the state Department of Health’s July 6 report on coronavirus in nursing homes, which said, among other things: ‘Admission policies were not a significant factor in nursing home fatalities,’ and ‘the data do not show a consistent relationship between admissions and increased mortality.”

There were reportedly 5,780 deaths in New York nursing homes from late March to early May. Cuomo’s directive could be tied to one in six of those deaths, according to the study by the nonprofit watchdog. The policy was in effect from March 25 to May 10.

The letter, sent to Assembly members Tuesday, said Cuomo’s administration ‘deliberately covered up’ the extent of deaths in nursing homes and ‘engaged in an intentional obstruction of justice.’

Cuomo said earlier this week the state didn’t cover up deaths, but should have moved faster to release information. 

‘No excuses: I accept responsibility for that,’ he said at a news conference.

He said it’s a ‘lie’ that he obstructed justice, and told reporters Wednesday that he had a ‘long hostile relationship’ with Kim. 

The governor accused Kim of being ‘unethical’ for backing nail salon owners as lawmakers discussed safety and wage reforms of the industry in 2015. 

Kim had initially supported the reforms, but later opposed some of them after getting support from salon owners.

‘I didn’t say anything about Assemblyman Ron Kim. He attacked me,’ Cuomo said.

‘He attacked me and said that I obstructed justice in a letter.’

Kim told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Cuomo called him on the phone February 11 and shouted at him.

‘He went off on, I have not seen his wrath, that he had bit his tongue about me for months,’ Kim said. 

‘And I heard, “I can go out tomorrow and I will destroy your career. I will start telling the world how bad of an Assembly member you are and you’ll be finished”.’

Richard Azzopardi, a top Cuomo aide who was on the call, accused Kim of lying in a statement Wednesday and said no one threatened to ‘destroy anyone with their wrath.’

In addition to the nursing home scandal, Comrie also wants to look into claims that a veterans home in his district in southeastern Queens gave COVID-19-positive residents there drug cocktails without their consent.

Earlier this month, it was learned that the New York State Veterans’ Home at St. Albans in Queens gave at least 62 residents the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine in addition to the antibiotic drug azithromycine last spring.

The facility, which is run by the New York State Department of Health, administered the drugs despite the fact that the federal government warned of adverse effects caused by the medications, according to THE CITY.

‘Allegations that the Department of Health participated in Hydroxychloroquine experimentation with residents at New York State Veterans Homes are simply not true,’ Gary Holmes, a spokesperson for the department, told on Sunday.

‘No resident of a veteran’s home was ever a part of any state supported study of this medication. 

Cuomo during a press conference Friday where he attempted to defend his handling of COVID in nursing homes

Cuomo during a press conference Friday where he attempted to defend his handling of COVID in nursing homes 

‘It was used only as a treatment and not as part of an experiment, in the early days of this pandemic when people were dying, no other therapies existed, and Hydroxychloroquine seemed like the only hope. 

‘Patient privacy precludes us from commenting about specific cases, but it was the practice of the Veterans’ homes to discuss use of this therapy with patients who were mentally competent, or for those who were not, with their designated healthcare proxy or legal surrogate. 

‘New York State Veterans Homes had already discontinued use of this treatment for COVID-19 before the FDA revoked the emergency use authorization in June 2020.’ 

Several families said they didn’t learn their loved ones were given the experimental treatments until after the fact.

They said some residents at the facility have dementia and were unable to give consent to the unproven drugs.

Colleen Hanley told THE CITY that her 85-year-old uncle, Stephen Durnin, who was a resident at the facility, died on April 22.

‘I’ve only had a five-minute chat with him’: Infectious diseases expert denies Cuomo’s claim he was his ‘chief advisor’ amid cover-up 

A top member of President Joe Biden’s COVID panel is distancing himself from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, denying Cuomo’s claim that he was a ‘chief advisor’.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert with the University of Minnesota, was the latest to distance himself from Cuomo as fallout grows from the governor’s nursing home deaths scandal.

Cuomo’s administration had claimed Osterholm was a ‘chief advisor’ who spoke with the governor on a ‘regular basis’ — claims the epidemiologist was quick to deny on Thursday.

‘I’ve had one, five-minute conversation in my entire life with Governor Cuomo, just a few weeks ago when he called me, just to congratulate me on a TV program appearance,’ Osterholm told the PBS program Firing Line. 

The primary cause of death listed on his death certificate was cardiac arrest due to pneumonia and ‘presumed COVID-19.’

Hanley alleges that her uncle, who had vascular dementia, was given the drug cocktail without her consent even though she was his health care proxy.

‘If it was a doctor-patient decision, what made the doctor believe that severely ill patients understood they were being given an experimental treatment?’ Hanley told THE CITY.

Earlier this month, Cuomo was asked about the state’s role in administering the drugs to residents of veterans homes under its watch.

‘The state doesn’t do that,’ Cuomo said.

‘The patient’s doctor orders a medication, and that’s between the patient and the doctor.’

Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, said that at the time the drugs were reportedly administered, there was a surge in COVID-19 cases and medical officials were desperate to stem the skyrocketing hospitalizations.

‘We had little information,’ Zucker said.

‘Initial indications showed that the hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin might be a life-saving treatment.

‘When we realized that the data did not pan out, we stopped using it.’

Cuomo last week faced mounting challenges to his leadership on the coronavirus pandemic as state lawmakers threatened to strip him of the power to issue emergency orders and federal investigators scrutinized his administration’s handling of nursing home data.

The Justice Department has been examining the governor’s coronavirus task force and trying to determine whether the state intentionally manipulated data regarding deaths in nursing homes, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.

The people, who weren’t authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Cuomo administration had not been cooperative with prosecutors, especially in the early stages of the probe, and for months had not produced documents and other data the Justice Department had requested.

The inquiry began months ago in the Justice Department’s civil division, and parts of it have previously been disclosed publicly. 

On August 26, federal prosecutors gave Cuomo’s administration 14 days to provide data on nursing home deaths. 

More data was sought in October.

The Times Union of Albany reported on Wednesday that prosecutors in the US attorney’s office in Brooklyn had also become involved in an inquiry.

Over the summer, Cuomo’s administration assailed the investigation as politically motivated. 

Just a few weeks ago, New York said less than 9,000 nursing home residents died of COVID-19

Just a few weeks ago, New York said less than 9,000 nursing home residents died of COVID-19

Due to the recent scandal, however, that number has been revealed to be more than 13,000

Due to the recent scandal, however, that number has been revealed to be more than 13,000

There was also some resistance from career prosecutors inside the Justice Department’s civil rights division who viewed the investigation as political, the two people told the AP.

The investigation moved back into the public spotlight in recent weeks after revelations that Cuomo’s administration had given the public, and state lawmakers, an incomplete accounting of the number of deaths at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

In recent weeks, the administration revealed that 15,000 long-term care residents have died, up from the 8,500 previously disclosed.

Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, also told Democratic lawmakers that the administration delayed releasing data to the legislature about the deaths because officials ‘froze’ over worries the information was ‘going to be used against us’ by the Justice Department.

Azzopardi said on Wednesday that it wasn’t true that the administration had withheld records from the Justice Department, though he acknowledged that some data requested in October had taken time to collect and produce.

What are Cuomo’s emergency powers and how could they be rescinded? 

In March 2020, the New York State Legislature granted Cuomo emergency powers to address the coronavirus pandemic.

This effectively allows the governor to change any local or state law with the stroke of a pen. 

He has issued 94 such executive orders including including limiting gatherings in public and private spaces closing or reopening businesses, mask mandates and expanding hospital capacity.

Cuomo has also issued orders indirectly related such as making a second wedding license available for free if the first one expired.

The executive powers are set to expire on April 30, but the New York State Legislature has the power to revoke these powers before the deadline with a simple majority in both houses.  

There are 150 members in the Assembly so a simple majority would entail 76 members voting to rescind or 75 members and a tie-breaking casting vote by the Lieutenant Governor.

In the Senate, there are 63 members so they would need 32 Senators for a simple majority.

‘We responded to the entire August request and have been in the process of responding to the October request on a rolling basis as suggested by the Department of Justice at the time, with a production as recent as January 8, 2021,’ Azzopardi said. 

‘As we publicly said, DOJ has been looking into this for months. We have been cooperating with them and we will continue to.’

In response to reports about DeRosa’s comments, House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined other Democrats to call for a ‘full investigation.’

‘Thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers lost their lives in nursing homes throughout the pandemic,’ the Democratic lawmaker said in a statement. 

‘Their loved ones and the public deserve answers and transparency from their elected leadership, and the Secretary to the Governor’s remarks warrant a full investigation.’ 

Meanwhile, Cuomo was dealing with a fresh challenge in the state Senate, where top Democrats, including Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, prepared to vote in the coming days on a proposal that would require the governor to consult with legislators before issuing emergency orders.

Cuomo has used those powers, granted to him last spring, to limit public gatherings, close businesses and schools, and then unilaterally loosen those restrictions when he felt it would help the state.

Stewart-Cousins said the situation had changed since the early months of the crisis.

‘We certainly see the need for a quick response but also want to move toward a system of increased oversight, and review,’ she said. 

‘The public deserves to have checks and balances. Our proposal would create a system with increased input while at the same time ensuring New Yorkers continue to be protected.’

It wasn’t clear whether the proposal had support in the state Assembly.  

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