Gov. Cuomo’s administration and the New York Health Department have continued to refuse a release of the data indicating the total number of nursing home residents who’ve died from COVID-19 so far. While claiming they need another nine weeks and five days, March 22, at the earliest for a full accounting of the nursing home data, others suggest that unreported numbers could be in the thousands and the department has no valid reason for withholding the requested data.
Back in September, the Empire Center for Public Policy had filed a lawsuit against the state’s Department of Health after requesting the records in August and being told they were being reviewed for “applicable exemptions, legal privileges, and responsiveness.” The department continued to stall the requests with multiple extensions in order to comply with the numerous legal requests. The Empire Center’s senior health policy employees argued that this case wasn’t about assigning blame to any political leaders, but gaining a full and accurate understanding of defenses against the pandemic for our elderly and most vulnerable.
“There’s no excuse for refusing to release these records immediately. The Health Department should have released them on its own months ago, given how serious this issue is. The Freedom of Information Law was written specifically to let New Yorkers see what their government is doing without having to hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit. It should never take a lawsuit to get the government to obey it,” said Tim Hoefer, president of the Empire Center.
A bipartisan pair of Assembly members, Republican Kevin Byrne and Democrat Ron Kim recently sent a letter to President Joe Biden in seeking assistance to obtain the full COVID-19 reports on nursing home deaths. They have asked President Biden to use his executive power as President to have the Center for Disease Control (CDC) mandate the reporting to the public without delay, particularly the excluded nursing home data pertaining to those who died of COVID-19 after being transferred into hospitals.
“Earlier this fall, a group of state legislators wrote to the Director of the CDC, requesting they update their reporting rules to require nursing homes to employ retrospective reporting of resident deaths. Many are still concerned that a mandate from the NYS DOH on March 25th, which prohibited nursing homes from denying COVID-19 patients and prohibited them from requiring a test, created a deadly environment that further spread the virus to our most vulnerable residents. To know for sure, and to better prepare for the future, we need to know what the real numbers are,” the letter reads.
A recent report from the state health department also shows that 21,000 nursing home beds are lying empty this year, 13,000 more than expected, which could suggest an undercount in coronavirus-linked deaths. Gov. Cuomo and his administration have been claiming that the spike in nursing home deaths was not related to the state’s order but as a result of infections brought in by staff or family members.
Gov. Cuomo needs to be held accountable for his action instead of blaming everyone else. He’ll have to give answers to the public soon, especially since he doesn’t have former President Trump to blame anymore. If the final answer lies with President Biden, it might just become another Dem cover-up.