Cuomo on nursing home deaths: ‘Everyone did the best they could’

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Denis Slattery, New York Daily News
·3 min read
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ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended the state’s handling of nursing home fatalities during the COVID-19 pandemic after a report from Attorney General Letitia James found officials grossly undercounted deaths.

The governor oscillated between grief and anger Friday as he responded to questions about the report, invoking his own father’s passing and again placing blame on the Trump administration for its role throughout the crisis.

“Whether a person died in a hospital or died in a nursing home, people died,” he said during a remote briefing from the State Capitol. “Everyone did the best they could.”

James’ report, which found myriad failures on part of elder care facilities during the height of the spring outbreak, suggested that the state’s official tally of nursing home deaths could be off by as much as 50%.

In response, the state released long-sought data that finally included long-term care facility residents who died after being transferred to hospitals and showed the AG’s estimates were not that far off.

Health Commissioner Howard Zucker provided updated data revealing over 12,700 seniors from nursing homes, roughly 43% more than the previous figure, died in total.

“When I saw the Attorney General report, I decided that we needed to finish it up quickly, and get these numbers out in real-time,” he said.

Zucker noted that the state’s overall death toll has not changed and said it was “factually inaccurate” for the Attorney General to suggest deaths were undercounted.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle as well as advocates and reporters had been seeking the data for months. Zucker, who said he planned to release the information at an upcoming legislative budget hearing, told lawmakers last summer the numbers were forthcoming.

Cuomo bristled at criticisms, calling the issue a “political football” and pointing the finger at the Trump administration.

“Where this starts is, frankly, a political attack from the prior federal administration HHS,” he said, going on to again defend a since rescinded state Department of Health order requiring nursing homes to readmit residents who were still recovering from COVID-19 if they had the ability to care for them.

Cuomo officials have long argued that the mandate came from federal health officials.

“So, if you think there was a mistake, go talk to the federal government,” the governor said. “It’s not about pointing fingers or blame. It’s that this became a political football.”

Still, Cuomo said, he shares the frustration and anger felt by grieving families, invoking his father, the late Gov. Mario Cuomo.

“I understand the pain. I understand the search for answers. But it was a tragedy, and I feel the anguish and I feel the pain. And I get the anger,” he said. “My father died. I wish I had someone to blame. It would have made me feel better, maybe.

“But they are in my thoughts and prayers. I believe... why COVID? Why did God do this? I don’t know. I don’t know. But it was cruel and it was terrible and it still is,” he added.