Cuomo Dealt Another Blow on N.Y. Nursing-Home Death Controversy

A New York Supreme Court judge ordered the state Health Department to release records showing the full count of coronavirus deaths among nursing-home residents.

The ruling was the latest blow to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has tried to deflect a barrage of criticism that state policies under his leadership led to an increase of Covid-19 related deaths among nursing-home residents. Last week, state Attorney General Letitia James released a report alleging the Cuomo administration undercounted Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%, and may have obscured data available to assess the risk to patients.

On Wednesday, Acting Supreme Court Justice Kimberly A. O’Connor said that the Health Department violated state law by not providing data in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscally-conservative think tank in Albany. O’Connor gave the department five business days to provide the requested information, which includes the number of patients who died inside and outside of nursing-home facilities.

“We hope Justice O’Connor’s unequivocal ruling finally pushes the Cuomo administration to do the right thing,” said Bill Hammond, senior fellow for health policy at the Empire Center. “The people of New York —- especially those who have lost loved ones in nursing homes —- have waited much too long to see this clearly public information about one of the worst disasters in state history.”

The New York health department said it was already “in the process” of responding to the request, according to spokesman Gary Holmes. He said the department will also publish the information on its website.

New Release

Following the Attorney General’s report last week, state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker released additional figures on nursing-home fatalities. The state data showed 9,786 confirmed and 2,957 presumed deaths.

State officials said they hadn’t released the data initially because they wanted to be sure it was accurate. Cuomo defended his administration, saying they did the best they could with the information they had at the time.

He said the state was following directions from the federal government when it sent out guidance on March 25 that required coronavirus patients to be admitted into nursing homes, a move the attorney general said may have put healthy residents at risk. Cuomo has said the homes weren’t supposed to take in Covid-positive patients if their facility wasn’t able to properly isolate them.

“Clearly the best disinfectant is sunlight,” said state Senator Jim Tedisco, a Republican who advised the Empire Center on the lawsuit. “Governor Cuomo’s coronavirus cover-up is crumbling down.”

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