By Emily Drooby
New Yorkers are demanding answers and action after the state’s Attorney General report shows nursing home deaths were much higher than originally detailed by the state.
“Someone has to be held responsible and we have got to get to the bottom of this,” said New York City Councilman Eric Ulrich, who has been vocal in sounding the alarm from the early days of the pandemic.
After losing several friends in nursing homes and hearing from his constituents, he realized the numbers weren’t adding up. Now his suspicions have seemingly been confirmed.
“Numerous mistakes made, and bad policy decisions made that directly resulted in the deaths of thousands of New Yorkers who didn’t have to die,” he told Currents News. “And then the governor tried to cover that up, and that’s why every single tax paying New Yorker should be outraged at the Cuomo administration.”
This past summer, there was speculation that the number of nursing home deaths attributed to COVID-19 could be much higher than the state was reporting. Nursing home residents who died in hospitals were not being counted in that number of those lost to the virus.
Governor Andrew Cuomo dodged the criticism for months. However, last week state Attorney General Letitia James (D), released a scathing report after a long investigation that began with the multiple complaints of COVID-related neglect.
This forced health department officials to release their closely held data, contributing thousands of new deaths to the nursing home total, about 45% higher than the original number. Many were angry over a lack of transparency.
The report also brings up a highly criticized early pandemic decision by Governor Cuomo, which forced nursing homes to accept COVID-positive patients.
The Governor’s response fueled the fire. During a press conference he said, “Whether a person died in a hospital, or died in a nursing home, people died.”
State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker reminded people the number of deaths hasn’t changed — just where they happened.
“When they said there was undercounting, that’s just factually inaccurate,” he said. “Reporting the number of deaths is always the hardest number to put out there, and we wanted to make sure those numbers were accurate.”
Support for the findings came from both sides of the aisle. Now, attention has been turned towards next steps.
“The fact that the governor engaged in this coverup, people should be outraged,” said Councilman Ulrich. “There needs to be a full-fledged investigation, and someone needs to be held responsible for this.”
The White House said they’ll decide if a Department of Justice investigation on the matter will take place.
There have also been calls for Zucker to resign, while Attorney General James continues to investigate at least 20 nursing homes of particular concern.
In general, nursing home cases in New York have steadily fallen since the vaccine became available. Still, for so many families, it’s too little too late.