New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Under Fire For Nursing Home Scandal

Luca Boccalato, Staff Writer

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is under bipartisan fire over his handling of nursing homes within his state during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

There are three parts surrounding the political crisis of Cuomo. The first and most immediate is the report on Wednesday that he threatened a Democratic state assemblyman, Ron Kim of Queens after Kim criticized the governor in the New York Times. Kim told the New York Times that Cuomo threatened to go after him and his career. 

In retort, Cuomo accused the assemblyman of impropriety and corruption, telling the press that he has had “a long and hostile relationship” with Kim, who’s currently serving his fifth term. 

In a statement, Cuomo’s advisor Rich Azzopardi denied the allegations of threats made by Kim, stating that Kim lied about the alleged threats made while on the phone. Azzopardi also added that he witnessed the call.

New Yorkers’ opinions may shift on the governor due to this conflict. A poll came out on Tuesday by Siena polling Cuomo’s approval rating at 56%. Currently, when it comes to his response to the pandemic, six out of ten people look favorably upon Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic. 

Kim’s criticism in the New York Times comes on the heels of the revelation from Cuomo’s aide Melissa DeRosa that the state declined to provide legislators with accurate data on the number of nursing home residents who died from COVID-19. The aide told the Washington Post that the governor’s office deliberately delayed releasing information out of fears that the data would look unfavorably on them.

The issue at hand, according to the report, is the state released data only on deaths of nursing home residents and staff who died within the homes themselves under the category of nursing home deaths. Patients who contracted the virus but who died outside of the nursing homes were tallied into the overall COVID-19 deaths, but not to the nursing home tally. 

After legislators and reporters asked for more in-depth information, the Justice Department announced a probe into the state’s handling of the pandemic. New York Attorney General Letitia James then released a more conclusive report on the number of nursing home deaths that the state updated in its tally. 

This newfound discovery did not change the amount of COVID-19 deaths that occurred, it only changed the percentage of nursing home deaths.  The state’s withholding of the amount of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes is the second phase of the portion of the New York nursing home scandal.

The third part of this crisis comes with the state’s decision in March to mandate the release of patients from hospitals and acceptance into nursing homes even if they tested positive for COVID-19, putting at risk elder residents directly in harm’s way. The Governor’s office argues that they followed instructions given by the Center for Disease Control in an attempt to conserve hospital beds and limit capacity. Between Mar. 25, when the mandate was implemented in place, and May 10 when retracted, more than 6,300 COVID-19 positive patients received admission into nursing homes. Kim’s Queens district, one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, was also home to his uncle who died in April of 2020 in a nursing home.

Cuomo praised his administration for the hard work it did during the pandemic to protect nursing homes. Cuomo in September stated in a press conference that they were 46 out of 50 states in terms of nursing home deaths even while being hit the hardest. He even compares the state’s actions and outcomes to Floridas.

When comparing New York to Florida, Florida was one of the worst-off states especially when it comes to nursing homes’ death. Data shows that about half of Florida’s COVID-19 deaths happened in nursing homes at the start of the pandemic. However, when accounting for the new data, New York surpasses Florida’s when it comes to nursing home deaths