By Jessica Easthope
Mickey and Dee Newman were always a package deal.
“They lived in Brooklyn in the same apartment for 60 years,” said Donna Johnson, Mickey and Dee’s daughter. “They were never separated. They never went on a trip without each other, not even to a party without each other.”
They were only apart one time in their 60 years of marriage: when the two were living in separate care facilities. The dream was always to get back to each other – a chance they didn’t get in this life. Mickey passed away in his facility of COVID-19 on March 30, 2020, Dee just two weeks later.
“We’re Roman Catholic and we weren’t able to have the proper burial they deserved,” Donna said. “We couldn’t see them, couldn’t hold their hands. The hospital called after my mom died and said ‘if you’d like to, you can come and see her now.’ She was dead and they wanted us to come see her through a glass window. No, that’s not how it should be.”
In the 46 days of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s directive, he ordered nursing homes to take in COVID-positive patients. More than 6,000 patients with the virus were placed into facilities. To date, the number of people who died of COVID-19 in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and rehabilitation centers is more than 15,000.
Now the loss is front and center with faces of lives cut short and families torn apart. The “We Care Memorial Wall” was put up in front of the Cobble Hill Health Center where Peter Arbeeny’s dad, Norman, caught COVID-19.
“The governor said 28 percent, 33 percent. That’s thousands of people,” Peter said. “So I wanted to put their faces on a wall because a number is a person, is a family, is a father, is a grandfather, is a great uncle.”
Peter and his brother, Daniel have now become advocates for their father and the thousands of others who they say Gov. Cuomo put in danger.
“On March 15, he locked us out of the nursing homes and on March 25, he sent COVID in,” Peter said. “It didn’t make any sense then and it doesn’t make any sense now. We still don’t have an apology.”
Assemblyman Ron Kim, who has been one of the most outspoken critics against the governor’s handling of nursing home deaths, says he was threatened if he did not help Gov. Cuomo cover up what Kim calls a ‘fatal error’.
“The moment he ordered me to issue a lie, he passed an unethical and possibly an illegal point that now I had to push back and fight for constituents,” Assemblyman Kim said. “I made promises to these families behind me.”
An apology won’t bring these people back, but those missing them say they’re still waiting for one.
“Who cares? We care,” said Peter. “We need people to care.”
And they’ll continue to wait until they get justice.