Attorney General Tish James’ report began to reveal the horrific truth: Gov. Cuomo’s Department of Health hid the true toll of the coronavirus on nursing-home residents. But much more remains to get at the full truth, including the impact of Cuomo’s insane March 25 mandate that forced homes to take in COVID-positive patients.
Cuomo & Co. stonewalled for months, ignoring demands from lawmakers and watchdogs to release the total number of nursing-home resident deaths, including those that happened in hospitals. Only in the wake of James’ report did Health Commissioner Howard Zucker admit that the true toll was about 50 percent higher than he’d claimed.
A judge last week ruled that the long stonewall was a clear violation of the Freedom of Information Law. Albany Supreme Court Justice Kimberly O’Connor slammed Team Cuomo for claiming it “was unable to respond” to the Empire Center’s FOIL request for six months. She gave the DOH five business days to release the data.
On Saturday, the DOH relented, releasing fatality data for individual nursing homes. But Bill Hammond, the Empire Center’s point man on health policy, said that wasn’t all the group asked for: He wants daily data so he can track the results of the March 25 order.
Hammond also questions the accuracy of DOH’s new numbers: On Jan. 28, it reported 8,940 in-facility COVID deaths, just 26 more than what it reported Jan. 19 — “even though nursing home residents have recently been dying at the rate of hundreds per week.”
The DOH’s current tally is 13,197, with nearly a third dying in hospital. That’s thousands more resident deaths than California, which has double New York’s population. It’s about 14 percent of the state’s nursing-home population, 2 percent higher than the national average, disproving Cuomo’s months of claims that the Empire State did better than most.
Team Cuomo’s reluctant release of data isn’t enough even for Democratic legislators, who want to pass a 10-bill package to strengthen accountability and oversight. One bill would require the DOH to report all COVID nursing-home deaths, regardless of where they occurred. “We want to have the force of law require the disclosure of this data in the future,” said Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx). “God forbid we find ourselves in a similar situation in the future.”
It shouldn’t take court orders for Team Cuomo to come clean — and it still has much to reveal.