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Cuomo Deflects Blame From AG Nursing Home Report

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaking April 14, 2020.
File: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaking April 14, 2020.

Governor Andrew Cuomo continues to blame what he says is an “ongoing political attack” for the controversy over the number of nursing home deaths in New York during the COVID-19 pandemic, that led to a critical report by the state’s attorney general.

The report by Attorney General Tish James, a Cuomo ally and fellow Democrat, found that New York undercounted by 50% the amount of nursing home residents who died in first surge of the pandemic last spring. 

Cuomo defended his administration, saying it did not intentionally do anything wrong, including when it issued a March 25 directive that required the homes to accept residents with COVID-19 discharged from the hospitals. Critics say that led to spread of the virus in the facilities.

“I believe everybody did the best they could,” Cuomo said. “I believe the federal government, CDC, I believe they gave the best guidance they could. I believe they give the best guidance they can today. I believe the state department of health, they gave their best guidance and made the best decisions on the facts they had.”

Cuomo says the controversy began during the administration of former President Donald Trump, and he blamed, among others, former Trump assistant health secretary and Western New York political operative Michael Caputo for what he says were politically motivated attacks.

Cuomo says all of the nursing home deaths were a tragedy, and he says he understands that angry and grieving relatives are simply looking for someone to blame. But he says it was “mean” of his political opponents to stir them up.

“It put a thought in your head, ‘maybe my father died unnecessarily?’, and that was just cruel to do,” Cuomo said. “Because it wasn’t true.”

Caputo, in a statement, says Cuomo’s “foolish” executive order was the “primary cause of thousands of nursing home COVID deaths in New York.” Caputo says the governor must be “held accountable.”

Several hours after the AG released her report, Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker released an updated number of deaths of nursing home residents, that showed over 12,700, or 43% more died, than the state had been reporting. Zucker for months had stonewalled requests by lawmakers and media to share the data, but says he changed his mind after the report.

“When I saw the attorney general report, I decided that we needed to finish that up quickly, and get these numbers out in real time,” Zucker said.

Zucker says he had been saving the reveal of the numbers for an upcoming budget hearing in February. He says “factually inaccurate” for the attorney general to say there was an undercount of deaths. He says the deaths were counted, they were just listed with all of the others who passed away in hospitals.  

“The total number of deaths does not change,” Zucker said. “That number has not changed.”

Cuomo and Zucker also cast blame on the nursing homes themselves, saying it was up to the homes to give the health department the correct numbers. The governor says the attorney general’s report finds that the data from the nursing homes was “sketchy,” and that the health department is continuing to audit those numbers.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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