Health News

Republicans ask acting AG James to subpoena NY Gov. Cuomo state’s COVID-19 nursing home policies

Rep. Elise Stefanik and her fellow Republican Congressmen from New York signed a letter Wednesday, Feb. 3, asking the acting U.S. attorney general to immediately subpoena Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his team for all documents and communications related to the state’s COVID-19 nursing home policies.

This move came after New York State Attorney General Letitia James released a report last week detailing how Cuomo’s administration had underreported thousands of coronavirus-related deaths in state nursing homes by as much as 50 percent.

Officials of New York State Department of Health immediately issued new data for nursing home COVID-19 deaths, adding more than 3,800 to the previous tally. This increased the overall death toll related to those facilities by more than 40 percent.

In the letter, addressed to acting U.S. Attorney General Robert “Monty” Wilkinson, the seven House Representatives requested that Wilkinson issue subpoenas to Cuomo, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, state Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker as well as their staff.

They argued that James’s report showed how Cuomo and his staff “recklessly and knowingly” underreported deaths in nursing homes across the state after his decision in March last year to require nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients.

“We are grateful to New York State Attorney General Letitia James for revealing the veracity of Governor Cuomo’s mismanagement in her recent report, but the people of New York deserve greater transparency, accountability, and ultimately, the truth about the cover-up that Governor Cuomo’s administration engaged in,” the letter said.


In August last year, the Republican House Representatives pushed for the Department of Justice, then headed by Attorney General William Barr, to investigate the state’s nursing home policy. In their letter, they also requested an “immediate and thorough” update on that probe.

Fellow Democrat puts Cuomo in hot water

The report by James, a Democrat, cast more doubt on the state’s decision to send nursing home residents who had been hospitalized with the coronavirus back to the nursing homes.

The apparent undercount of deaths in nursing homes also gave weight to speculation that the state may have intentionally played down the number of those deaths to avoid blame.

“We will work to ensure that Acting Attorney General Wilkinson and President [Joe] Biden support this pursuit for the truth about Governor Cuomo and his administration, considering the scathing evidence presented in Attorney General James’s recent report,” Stefanik said in a prepared statement. “Tens of thousands of innocent people in our great state died, and unlike the Governor, we care.”

Stefanik has been a vocal critic of Cuomo throughout the pandemic. She has repeatedly criticized him over the state’s nursing home policies during the crisis. She was the lead signer in the letter. (Related: Nolte: Andrew Cuomo’s nursing home massacre revealed as one more true ‘conspiracy theory.’)

“This is now more than a nursing home scandal,” said Stefanik. “This is a massive corruption and cover-up scandal.”

Cuomo’s camp was quick to fire back.

“It’s no surprise this QAnon Trump puppet, her treason caucus and their friends want to talk about anything other than the approaching one month anniversary of the Capitol insurrection that they helped foment and resulted in the death of a police officer,” Rich Azzopardi, senior advisor to the governor, said in a prepared statement Wednesday night. “It’s a naked ploy and New Yorkers see right through it. Maybe someone should investigate what she and the rest of the Trump enablers knew about the organizing and planning of this riot.”

Deaths in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have accounted for about a third of the country’s over 430,000 COVID-19 deaths. This is why federal and state authorities have made vaccinating staff and residents at such facilities a top priority. In New York, deaths in those facilities were a great source of controversy.

For several months now, Cuomo had been accused of obscuring a more accurate estimate of nursing home deaths.

Health commissioner explains discrepancy

Dr. Zucker, the state’s health commissioner, said that the state website had always been clear that the deaths it listed did “not include deaths outside of a facility.” This means that the state’s count only included the number of deaths at the facilities and not accounting for the residents who died at a hospital after being transferred there.

“The word ‘undercount’ implies there are more total fatalities than have been reported,” he said. “This is factually wrong.”

While the new data released by the state health department put the total number of deaths connected to nursing homes from less than 9,000 to 12,743, the increase did not alter New York’s coronavirus death count of more than 42,000.

The department simply reassigned deaths previously counted toward a municipality to the nursing homes those people were residents of.

But aside from the number of deaths connected to nursing homes, James’s report also scrutinized immunity provisions granted to healthcare providers codified by Cuomo in the state budget.

The report said the protection of immunity may have prompted some nursing homes to make financially motivated decisions at the height of the pandemic, like admitting patients even when the facilities were facing staff shortages or were unequipped to care for them.

For the uninitiated, the New York State budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year offers legal immunities to healthcare providers in the fight against COVID-19. Known as the Emergency or Disaster Treatment Protection Act (EDTPA), it designates “immunity from any liability, civil or criminal,” for New York healthcare providers.

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