A state judge has ruled that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Health Department broke the law by refusing to provide a government watchdog group with the total nursing home death toll from COVID. He ordered Cuomo to release the figures within 5 days.
Albany Supreme Court Justice Kimberly O’Connor criticized Governor Cuomo for telling the Empire Center for Public Policy “that it was unable to respond to the [Freedom of Information Law] request” since it was filed six months ago.
“DOH does not, in the Court’s opinion, offer an adequate explanation as to why it has not responded to that request within its estimated time period or to date,” O’Connor wrote in a 16-page decision this afternoon.
“Its continued failure to provide petitioner a response, given the straightforward nature of the request … goes against FOIL’s broad standard of open and transparent government and is a violation of that statute.”
Now Cuomo’s health department has five business days to turn over the death totals to the watchdog group and gave it 60 days to submit its legal and attorney fees so Cuomo’s office could reimburse it.
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The Empire Center’s Bill Hammond called the ruling “a great victory,” according to a New York Post report.
“We’re very pleased but we don’t have the data yet and there’s still a chance that they will appeal and tie this up for potentially months longer — and given the way they’ve behaved so far, I wouldn’t be surprised,” he said.
“I think that appeal would be doomed. I think they don’t have a leg to stand on legally.”
Last week, the New York Attorney General released a scathing new report showing that Governor Andrew Cuomo hid the deaths of thousands of nursing home residents. The shocking report confirms what most observers thought to be true for months, that Cuomo’s order putting coronavirus patients in nursing homes killed thousands more seniors than initially thought.
Cuomo has been under fire for months about nursing home deaths because the state tally only includes people who died at the facility; nursing home residents who were transferred to hospitals and died there are not included in the total.
In the report, the state attorney general, Democrat Letitia James, said the Cuomo administration likely omitted thousands of COVID deaths of nursing home residents.
The count of deaths in state nursing homes has been a source of controversy for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state Health Department officials, who have been sensitive to any suggestion that they played any role in the number of nursing home deaths, which the state put at more than 8,500.
They have also been accused of obscuring a more accurate estimate of nursing home deaths, because the state only counted deaths at the actual facilities, rather than including deaths of residents who were transferred to a hospital and died there.
In the 76-page report released by the attorney general, Letitia James, a survey of nursing homes found consistent discrepancies between deaths reported to the attorney general’s investigators and those officially released by the Health Department.
In one instance, an unnamed facility reported 11 confirmed and presumed deaths to the Health Department as happening on site through early August. The attorney general’s survey of that same facility, however, found 40 deaths, including 27 at the home and 13 in hospitals.
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“Preliminary data obtained by O.A.G. suggests that many nursing home residents died from Covid-19 in hospitals after being transferred from their nursing homes, which is not reflected in D.O.H.’s published total nursing home death data,” a summary of the report’s findings reads.
The liberal media touted Andrew Cuomo as a success story even though numbers show over 42,000 people died in his state — making it so New York has one of the highest coronavirus death rates in the world. Still, Cuomo released a book and went on a widely-publicized book tour where he received universal praise from media outlets.
The high death toll in New York nursing homes stems directly from a March 25 memo from the Health Department that he issued, which ordered nursing homes to accept patients who had tested positive.
The Democrat governor’s order has been widely considered to be disastrous because it placed COVID-19 patients with the elderly and people with disabilities, those most vulnerable and likely to die from the virus. Cuomo later reversed the order, but he continually has refused to take responsibility for it.
Previously, Times Union columnist Chris Churchill, the Associated Press and others have believed for months that the publicly-reported nursing home deaths are a “significant undercount.”
“The state is hiding the truth in other words – perhaps to make a controversial March 25 order requiring that nursing homes accept COVID-19 patients appear less catastrophic than it really was,” Churchill wrote in reaction to the new Department of Justice request.
Churchill said Cuomo keeps criticizing the investigation as a political, partisan attack, but it is not true. News outlets with right and left political leanings have been questioning the governor, as have Democrat and Republican lawmakers.
“Journalists and state lawmakers from both parties have repeatedly asked for the full count, only to be stonewalled by Cuomo and the Department of Health,” he wrote. “There’s no logical reason for the secrecy, other than protecting the governor’s reputation.”
Many New Yorkers also are demanding answers. The Empire Center for Public Policy recently filed a lawsuit demanding that the state release its data on nursing home deaths.
Janice Dean, a senior meteorologist at Fox News, has been a leading critic of Cuomo after both her in-laws died from the coronavirus in March in assisted living and nursing home facilities in New York.
“Here’s one hard truth Cuomo has still yet to tell: how many nursing home residents have died of COVID-19. 9 months into the pandemic, and three months after his health commissioner testified that he was hard at work counting NH deaths, Cuomo has not announced the grim total,” Dean wrote on Twitter.
She believes Cuomo’s order led to her in-laws’ and other loved ones’ deaths. And she has been calling for an investigation, The Federalist reported.
But Cuomo is not alone. Four other Democrat governors also ordered nursing homes to take coronavirus patients: New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania and Michigan. These five states have some of the highest nursing home death numbers, according to data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Like so many others, Dean said she wants to know why the governor put vulnerable nursing home patients at risk, why he did not use the other makeshift hospitals for COVID-19 patients instead and why the state still has not released the total number of nursing-home deaths linked to the virus.
“This is not political. It’s about accountability @NYGovCuomo,” she wrote on Twitter. “We won’t stop.”