Governor admits delay in nursing home information, but defends state’s handling of crisis

Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended the state’s handling of nursing homes following last week’s reports about withholding data, while also admitting there was a delay in providing information, which “created a void filled with skepticism and cynicism and conspiracy theories which furthered confusion.”

“We should have spent more time focusing on information requests,” he said of COVID-19 data related to nursing homes.

Asked specifically during Monday’s media briefing if he had anything to apologize for, Mr. Cuomo said he accepts responsibility for the void of information.

“We were too focused on doing the job and addressing the crisis of the moment and we did not do a good enough job on providing information,” he said. “I take total responsibility for that. The pain in it is it created confusion and cynicism and pain for the families of loved ones.”

The governor, however, said he did not believe the state’s handling of nursing homes, which have accounted for 30% of the total deaths in New York, required additional investigation.

“There is nothing to investigate,” he said.

New York’s GOP chairman, Nick Langworthy, issued a statement following the governor’s briefing and called him “an inveterate liar.”

“The problem with cover-ups is that when they start unraveling, more lies are required to cover for the previous lies, and that is exactly what is happening with Cuomo’s deadly nursing home debacle,” he said. “The only void that exists is the truth and it is crystal clear that the only way to get it is through a real independent investigation by a special prosecutor.”

Mr. Cuomo, top aides and the state Department of Health came under heavy fire from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle after a recording leaked last week of Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa telling Democratic lawmakers that data had been withheld out of fear of investigation from the Department of Justice. The New York Post first reported the recording.

Mr. Cuomo on Monday said the state had received requests for information on nursing homes from both the DOJ and state legislature. On Aug. 26, the DOJ requested data on nursing homes from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan — all states with Democratic governors. At the time, the DOJ said the request was “from the governors of states that issued orders which may have resulted in the deaths of thousands of elderly nursing home residents.”

Mr. Cuomo said the state legislature request was paused to “voluntarily comply” with the DOJ request. He said both houses of the state legislature were informed of that decision. Ms. DeRosa in a statement Friday said she was explaining to the legislators why their request had been put on hold in the leaked call.

“As I said on a call with legislators, we could not fulfill their request as quickly as anyone would have liked,” she said.

The controversy surrounding the data stemmed from nursing home residents who died at hospitals not being counted in the nursing home tally. Those deaths were instead reported in the hospital fatality data. The total number of deaths due to COVID-19, now at just over 37,000, has not been altered.

“The New York State DOH has always fully and publicly reported all COVID deaths in nursing homes and hospitals,” Mr. Cuomo said. “They have always been fully reported.”

A report from the New York attorney general showed that the state had undercounted deaths at nursing homes by as much as 50%. That prompted the state to update its numbers.

The biggest criticism of the state’s response goes back to the controversial March directive that said nursing homes cannot discriminate against COVID-positive patients. That meant nursing home residents who no longer needed to be hospitalized were brought back to their nursing homes, as long as the facilities maintained the patient could be adequately cared for. The reasoning at the time was that hospital capacity was too great a concern for those patients to remain in the hospital when their care did not require it. The governor said the state was following the federal government.

The governor and state DOH have maintained that the policy was not a driver of COVID spreading and that the virus was brought into facilities by asymptomatic staff members. On Monday, he said 365 out of 613 nursing homes received a person from a hospital. Of those 365, 98% had COVID in the facility prior to when the patient was admitted.