New York Democrats on Monday slammed an unapologetic Andrew Cuomo over COVID-19 deaths in the state’s nursing homes.
Cuomo remained defiant on Monday as he claimed that the ‘toxic political environment’ is to blame for the backlash he has received over the scandal.
He slammed ‘conspiracy theories’ and said that his March order on nursing homes was the subject of ‘distortion’ and not responsible for bringing coronavirus – and more deaths – into long-term care facilities.
But the governor’s comments did not satisfy a number of Democratic lawmakers, including state Assemblyman Ron Kim. His uncle died of a presumed case of COVID-19 in a New York nursing home in April.
He said: ‘All of it is BS. They could have given us the information back in May and June of last year. They chose not to.’
‘This is a betrayal of the public trust,’ Andrew Gounardes, a Democratic state senator, wrote on Twitter. ‘There needs to be full accountability for what happened.’
The order, which Cuomo said followed expert guidelines at the time, stated that COVID-19 patients could be sent back from hospitals to nursing homes, as it was believed then that they were not infectious anymore.
Families claimed it added to the number of deaths, yet Cuomo claimed on Monday that 98 percent of the care homes already had COVID-19 in the building before the sick patients were sent back there – and that he was not responsible.
More than 15,000 people have died in New York state’s nursing homes and long term care facilities from COVID-19, but as recently as last month, the state reported only 8,500 deaths.
The numbers, while accounted for in the full state death totals to the state, were not ascribed to nursing homes for residents who died in hospitals rather than within the facilities.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo remained defiant and unapologetic on Monday as he claimed during a press briefing that the ‘toxic political environment’ is to blame for the backlash he has received over COVID-19 deaths in the state’s nursing homes
State lawmakers have been calling for investigations, stripping Cuomo of his emergency powers and even his resignation after new details emerged this week about why certain nursing home data wasn’t disclosed for months.
Requests from state lawmakers and the U.S. Department of Justice were made in August for full accounting, along with numerous requests from the media, Cuomo said.
He added: ‘We gave precedence to the DOJ. We told the assembly that, we told the Senate that and that’s what we did.’
But New York State Sen. Jessica Ramos tweeted: ‘Trash. No one believes you.’
‘At no point did the Administration notify the legislature about a DOJ investigation. People died and Cuomo lied then he had the gall to write a book.’
New York State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi added: ‘To NY’ers watching Cuomo’s press conference — it is riddled with lies, theatre, & deflection.’
She added: ‘No, @NYGovCuomo, you did not tell the *entire* Senate or Assembly that there was a DOJ investigation, as the reason why you didn’t share the nursing home numbers.
‘I found out about a DOJ investigation with the rest of NY’ers in the @nypost story Thursday night.’
A report late last month from Democratic state Attorney General Letitia James examined the administration’s failure to tally nursing home residents’ deaths at hospitals.
The state then acknowledged the total number of long-term care residents’ deaths is nearly 15,000, up from the 8,500 previously disclosed.
Next, a Freedom of Information request showed that more than 9,000 recovering coronavirus patients in New York were released from hospitals into nursing homes in the pandemic’s early months .
This was more than 40 percent higher than the state had said previously because it wasn’t counting residents who returned from hospitals to homes where they already had lived.
It then emerged that Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa had told Democratic lawmakers that the tally of nursing home residents’ deaths at hospitals was delayed because officials worried that the information was ‘going to be used against us’ by the DOJ.
Tweeting throughout Monday’s press conference Fox host Janice Dean – who lost her mother-in-law and father-in-law to the virus – called the nursing home deaths ‘a massacre’.
She said Cuomo was ‘lying’, adding: ‘He is just a disgrace. We are not confused governor. There are no conspiracy theories. You are a criminal.’
Cuomo insisted Monday the state didn’t cover up deaths but acknowledged that officials should have moved faster to release some information sought by lawmakers, the public and the press.
‘All the deaths in the nursing homes and hospitals were always fully, publicly and accurately reported,’ he claimed.
He explained the matter Monday as a difference of ‘categorization,’ with the state counting where deaths occurred and others seeking total deaths of nursing home residents, regardless of the location.
‘We should have done a better job of providing as much information as we could as quickly as we could,’ he said. ‘No excuses: I accept responsibility for that.’
‘We should not have created the void [of information]. We should have done a better job of providing information and knocking down conspiracy theories.
‘We did not take enough action and the pain is it created confusion, cynicism and pain for the families of a loved one.’
Yet he refused to take any responsibility for any of the deaths in the state’s nursing homes as he continued to blame a ‘toxic political environment,’ and ‘disinformation’ for much of the criticism surrounding his administration’s handling of the issue.
Cuomo slammed ‘conspiracy theories’ around the scandal as he stated in a press conference that his March order on nursing homes was the subject of ‘distortion’. Pictured, a patient is wheeled out of the Cobble Hill Health Center by emergency medical workers in April 2020
Cuomo’s defiance and placing of the blame on a ‘lack of information’ on Monday came despite the revelation last week that his administration had hidden the number of deaths from COVID-19 in the facilities. Pictured, medical workers attend to a patient outside Harlem Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in New York City inn May 2020
Cuomo said the state was slow to respond to the lawmakers because officials prioritized dealing with requests from the Justice Department and were busy dealing with the work of the pandemic.
‘It´s not like people were in the South of France,’ he said.
‘When we didn´t provide information, it allowed press, people, cynics, politicians, to fill the void,’ he said, and ‘it created confusion and cynicism and pain for the families.’
‘The truth is: Everybody did everything they could.’
Cuomo, who has seen his image as a pandemic-taming leader dented by the series of disclosures involving nursing homes in recent weeks, said he would propose reforms involving nursing homes and hospitals in the upcoming state budget, without giving details.
The backlash against Cuomo intensified this week after top aide DeRosa reportedly admitted that his administration had withheld information from the Department of Justice.
Cuomo claimed that it was a question of ‘political spin’ over ‘facts’ as he hit back at those who claimed he hid the true number of deaths from the public and blamed ‘misinformation’
The governor said the scandal had only erupted due to a ‘void in information’ he created
Cuomo attempted to lay out what had happened with the nursing home death figures
It came after Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa (pictured left) reportedly said that Cuomo’s administration had feared that the COVID-19 deaths in nursing home could ‘be used against us’ as the Justice Department investigates New York and three other states
Secretary to the Governor DeRosa reportedly said that Cuomo’s administration had feared that the COVID-19 deaths in nursing home could ‘be used against us’ as the Justice Department investigates New York and three other states.
Rosa’s remarkable comments were made during a conference call with state Democrats and obtained by the New York Post.
In her confession, she admitted that officials ‘froze’ when former President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice asked for the data, before rebuffing the request.
DeRosa has since walked back the confession and said the state was ‘comprehensive and transparent’ with the DOJ.
She claimed on Friday that she meant they ‘needed to temporarily set aside the Legislature’s request [on nursing homes] to deal with the federal request first’.
Earlier on Monday families of victims of COVID-19 who died in the state’s nursing homes had accused Cuomo of issuing a death sentence to their loved ones as they joined the calls for probe.
‘He needs to answer for what he’s done, so we need an independent investigation,’ Tracey Alvino told ‘Mornings with Maria’ on Fox News on Monday. Her father died of COVID-19 in a New York care facility last year.
Tracey Alvino argues that Cuomo’s nursing home order has led to a ‘lifetime of heartache, anguish, and pain’ for coronavirus victims’ families. Her father died of COVID in a home
Alvino said that Cuomo’s original order ‘makes absolutely no sense’ to her, adding ‘I don’t know what they were thinking’. She is pictured above with her late father
She was joined by the three children of 93-year-old Agnes Minisalle who have demanded ‘justice’ for their mother and claimed that the investigation into the alleged cover-up should not be a partisan issue.
The families claim the Cuomo administration has continued to show them ‘disrespect’ as they try to brush off the scandal.
Cuomo has previously asked ‘who cares where they died’ when he was pushed on the nursing home death numbers.
‘Who cares how they died? We care how they died,’ Alvino told Fox of her father and the other victims.
‘The only thing that’s been worse than losing my father has been the continual disrespect that the Cuomo administration has shown us families.’
She said that Cuomo’s original order ‘makes absolutely no sense’ to her, adding ‘I don’t know what they were thinking’.
‘We knew from the beginning that this [coronavirus] was most deadly to the elderly. So why would you put a disease that’s most deadly to the elderly in with them? It makes absolutely no sense at all.’
‘With the stroke of Gov. Cuomo’s pen, he sentenced thousands of people like my father to death, and he sentenced us, the families, to a lifetime of heartache, anguish, and pain.’
The three children of 93-year-old Agnes Minisalle have demanded ‘justice’ for their mother and claimed that the investigation into the alleged cover-up should not be a partisan issue
Minisalle also died in a nursing home after contracting COVID-19
Alvino told Fox that her father was otherwise healthy before his death but had contracted coronavirus after going to a rehabilitation facility following a neck surgery.
She claims that her father asked her to get him out of the facility after he heard a lot of ambulances, ‘chaos and commotion’, and ‘coughing’ and began to grow concerned.
‘And he literally told us, ‘If you don’t get me out of here, I am going to die,” she said.
Her angered was echoed by Agnes Minisalle’s children who criticized Cuomo for ‘lying about the lives that are being lost’ on Fox & Friends on Monday.
‘You pat yourself on the back and tell everyone how good you’re doing … ‘It’s just terrible, absolutely terrible,’ Ted Minisalle claimed.
Cuomo’s pandemic: A timeline of the governor’s response to the COVID-19 crisis
MARCH 1: Female nurse, 39, returning from Iran becomes the first in New York to test positive for COVID-19.
MARCH 2: Cuomo gives the first of 111 consecutive daily televised briefings for New Yorkers
MARCH 13: Donald Trump declares national emergency.
MARCH 14: An 82-year-old woman with emphysema is announced as the first patient to die from the virus.
MARCH 17: New York City mayor Bill de Blasio says city should follow San Francisco with a shelter-in-place order; Cuomo says it will be statewide: ‘As a matter of fact, I’m going so far that I don’t even think you can do a statewide policy.’
MARCH 19: California Governor Gavin Newsom issues first statewide lockdown order
MARCH 22: Cuomo signs statewide stay-at-home order.
MARCH 25: Cuomo orders that nursing homes accept convalescent COVID patients back into their facilities.
MAY 10: The nursing home ruling is reversed, to insist on a negative COVID test before return to a nursing home. By now, more than 9,000 people have returned to nursing homes.
AUGUST: Questions begin to be asked about the nursing home policy.
AUGUST 26: Department of Justice opens an investigation into New York’s nursing homes and COVID policy.
OCTOBER 13: Cuomo publishes American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.
OCTOBER 21: Cuomo announced a policy of isolating identified ‘micro clusters’ of COVID cases.
NOVEMBER 20: Cuomo wins an Emmy ‘in recognition of his leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic and his masterful use of television to inform and calm people around the world’.
JANUARY 28: Attorney General Letitia James released a report finding that New York under-reported the number of deaths among nursing home patients by around 50 per cent, with 15,000 actually dying – not the 8,500 reported.
FEBRUARY 11: Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s secretary, admits that in August they ‘froze’ when asked for nursing home data, and dragged their heels on releasing it. The AP reports that more than 9,000 people were returned to nursing homes to recover from COVID in the period March 25-May 10, a figure 40 per cent higher than the official tally.
He also revealed that he lost his father-in-law who was a resident in the very same nursing home as his mother two weeks after her death.
The family pointed to the scathing report published by James as an indicator that a DOJ investigation into the NY governor would receive bipartisan support.
It some as New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik claimed that the ‘dam is breaking’ as she blasted Cuomo as ‘the worst governor in America’ in his handling of the pandemic.
She believes that a federal investigation in the Democratic governor must begin immediately.
‘You’re seeing overwhelming bipartisan outcry. Democrats … need to grow a spine and stand up for what’s right,’ Stefanik told The Faulkner Focus on Fox on Monday.
‘This is not about politics but people’s lives. What was so shameful about the transcript that was released was the secretary to the governor didn’t apologize for the number of deaths, didn’t apologize for the policy, but apologized for the political fallout for Democrats.
‘It’s a disgrace,’ she added.
Stefanik also accused Cuomo of being ‘a bully’ after attempts were blocked last month for Senate Republicans to rein in his emergency powers.
‘They bully people within their own party. This is more important. We are talking about lives that were lost here, so these Democratic state senators and the Democratic congressional delegation need to grow a spine and grow some political courage and stand up for what’s right, for the people of this state who deserve justice.’
Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mayor Bill de Blasio, have since turned on Cuomo over the recent revelations.
George Pataki, the former Governor of New York, also said on Saturday that the state should look at creating laws to recall Cuomo following the scandal.
Currently, New York does not have a procedure to allow for the recall of an elected official and creating one would require a constitutional amendment bill passed in successive years.
At least one politician has also called for impeaching Cuomo.
New York Assemblyman Michael Montesano, a Republican, said on Friday that he plans to ask the state legislature to consider impeaching the governor, Fox News reported.
‘We’ve been calling for subpoenas and a hearing for quite a while,’ Montesano told the outlet.
‘This news of the last several days is extremely troubling to me and I’m going to be asking today for his resignation and I’m also going to be asking the legislature to look into, to explore filing articles of impeachment against the governor if he doesn’t resign.’
In her confession to lawmakers released last week, DeRosa told lawmakers: ‘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.’
Around the same time the data was requested by the Justice Department, the Empire Center for Public Policy filed a Freedom of Information Law request for the true number of nursing home deaths.
An Albany judge ruled earlier this month that the Cuomo administration’s Health Department broke New York State law by failing to provide totals of all nursing home deaths caused by COVID-19 to a watchdog group that had requested the records.
The office of Attorney General Letitia James in January found that the Cuomo administration had misled the public about the total number of nursing home residents killed by the pandemic.
Cuomo’s administration has been rocked by the confession on Thursday of his top aide, Melissa DeRosa, that they deliberately hid data on nursing home COVID deaths, in the midst of a Justice Department investigation into their handling of the pandemic
Her office announced that the state had undercounted the number of nursing home deaths by as much as 50 percent forcing officials to admit the true death toll was 12,743, rather than the 8,711 previously claimed.
The state’s total death toll was unchanged following the revelation as the deaths had been counted in overall figures.
The change in number was down to nursing home residents who had been transported to hospital where they then died not being counted in the nursing home death tally.
Amid the backlash, on Friday, 14 Democratic New York State Senators joined Republicans in calling for Cuomo’s pandemic emergency powers to be rescinded.
‘Without exception, the New York State Constitution calls for the Legislature to govern as a co-equal branch of government,’ they wrote.
‘While COVID-19 has tested the limits of our people and the state – and early during the pandemic, required the government to restructure decision making to render rapid, necessary public health judgement – it is clear that the expanded emergency powers granted to the Governor are no longer appropriate.
Cuomo was granted emergency powers by the state legislature in March 2020 giving him the authority to suspend laws or create new laws with immediate effect during the pandemic.
As of last week, Cuomo has issued at least 94 executive orders throughout this time, according to WGRZ.
Cuomo had before Monday remained uncharacteristically quiet on the matter but was seen attending a meeting with Joe Biden and other leaders at the White House to discuss a coronavirus relief package over the weekend.
The governor, who won an Emmy for his coronavirus press briefings, has fallen from grace as new details continue to emerge about his handling of COVID-19 in the state’s nursing homes.