Metro

Cuomo team talked lowballing COVID-19 nursing home deaths

We don’t want to say we told you so, but …

After disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo spent more than a year blaming everyone but himself for the nursing home controversy – including The Post — the state Assembly’s damning impeachment probe revealed both Cuomo and his top aides hid nursing home data from the public while negotiating his $5.1 million book deal.

According to a report released Monday, Cuomo was aware as early as March 2020 that nursing home deaths were being undercounted, assigning a special Department of Health team to reevaluate the figures.

In addition, the report shows Cuomo was directly involved in editing and reviewing the DOH’s supposedly exculpatory July 2020 report on the COVID-19 count in nursing homes in order to “strengthen” his defense of the notorious March 25 directive that required nursing homes to readmit residents who tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Family members of seniors who died in nursing homes of COVID-19 hold a rally and demand Governor Cuomo's resignation or impeachment, March 25, 2021
Family members of seniors who died in nursing homes of COVID-19 hold a rally and demand Andrew Cuomo’s resignation or impeachment, March 25, 2021.
Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

The infamous COVID-19 readmission policy was adopted March 25 and detailed in a Health Department directive that reads, “No resident shall be denied readmission or admission to the [nursing home] solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19.”

Notably, the July 6 report claiming the policy was not responsible for increasing COVID-19 deaths among medically vulnerable patients was released the same day Cuomo and an Executive Chamber official met with reps from Penguin Random House. Four days later, the $5.1 million book deal for what became the then-gov’s pandemic memoir “American Crisis” was finalized.  

The deal that was sealed in July 2020 began to take shape nearly four months earlier, as COVID-19 spread across the tri-state area. The Assembly report states that Cuomo began engaging with Penguin Random House employees on March 19 — just three weeks after New York identified its first COVID-19 case, and one day before Cuomo announced a shutdown of so-called “non-essential” businesses.

People who've lost loved ones due to Covid-19 while they were in New York nursing homes attend a protest and vigil on March 25, 2021 in New York City.
People who’ve lost loved ones due to COVID-19 while they were in New York nursing homes attend a protest and vigil on March 25, 2021 in New York City.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The March 20 announcement followed days of the then-governor belittling and scoffing at Mayor Bill de Blasio when Hizzoner called for shutting down schools and non-essential businesses.

In April and May 2020, after the Health Department had been publishing fatality data for “several weeks,” investigators found that Cuomo’s Executive Chamber staffers were aware that “certain fatalities in nursing home facilities due to COVID-19 were not included in the published data.”

The lowballing was the topic of “multiple discussions” among Cuomo’s top staffers and members of the governor’s COVID-19 Task Force. Those high-level government employees exhibited a “reluctance to admit error” when their number-fudging was discovered, lawmakers say.

The Assembly report shows the governor’s aides and task force members deliberately opted to publicize the smaller figure of 6,000 deaths — which included only fatalities in care facilities — instead of the larger number of 10,000, which represented all COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents.

Witnesses told investigators that the same Executive Chamber official who was the “key point person” for Cuomo’s book deal also made the call that only in-facility deaths would be included in the health department report.  

Sources identified that “key point person” as Melissa DeRosa, a former top Cuomo aide who the report found “sent and received at least 1,000 emails” about the book between July and December 2020. 

People who've lost loved ones due to Covid-19 while they were in New York nursing homes attend a protest and vigil on March 25, 2021 in New York City.
The lowballing was the topic of “multiple discussions” among Andrew Cuomo’s top staffers and members of the governor’s COVID-19 Task Force.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

While Cuomo claimed to be working 24/7 on managing New York State’s COVID-19 pandemic response, he and his employees were in fact spending time and resources to earn a profit for himself by authoring the memoir, which the Assembly investigators determined “detracted from their state duties during the intense period.”

Meanwhile, an unnamed “senior DOH” official — who sources identified to the Post as state health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker — attempted to release the true number of nursing home resident deaths to the state Legislature in August 2020 and even prepared a letter with the figure in it. But that letter was not allowed to be released by the Executive Chamber.

Also in August 2020, an unnamed “senior Executive Chamber official” attempted to coerce Zucker into testifying that the Chamber was not involved in the controversial March 25 directive, but the DOH boss refused to do so.

“The evidence obtained in our investigation indicates that the former Governor and his senior staff were not fully transparent with the public regarding the number of COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents,” the Assembly probe concludes.

Cuomo has blamed “politics” for the scandals, despite DeRosa’s acknowledgement that the administration “froze” and refused requests from the US Department of Justice to make the nursing home data public because they feared retribution from then-President Donald Trump, The Post exclusively reported in February.

Andrew Cuomo
Andrew Cuomo has blamed “politics” for his scandals.
Mark Lennihan/AP Photo/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cuomo himself blamed The Post for the backlash he faced, writing in “American Crisis”: “On April 25, conservative columnist Michael Goodwin published a piece in Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post aimed at New York with the headline, ‘State lacked common sense in nursing homes’ coronavirus approach” … It was an orchestrated strategy and a Fox News drumbeat.”

But independent reports, including those authored by the Empire Center for Public Policy, have found the March order did in fact contribute to an increase in nursing home facility deaths. A January report by state Attorney General Letitia James found that the nursing-home death toll from COVID-19 may have been more than 50 percent higher than state officials had claimed.

Since March 2020, more than 15,000 nursing home residents have been confirmed or presumed to have died from COVID-19 in facilities or hospital.

Cuomo and his former aides are being investigated by the FBI and the Brooklyn US Attorney’s Office in connection with both the nursing home scandal and the book deal.

The probe’s executive summary notes that “several law enforcement agencies” are undertaking investigations of Cuomo “that overlap with the Committee’s mandate.” The Assembly Judiciary Committee, which released the report, promised that it is “cooperating with law enforcement with respect to these issues.”


Source link