ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) – Twice last year, the Department of Justice sent Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration letters containing inquiries regarding nursing homes. In the face of reports that his coronavirus task force is under federal investigation, Cuomo said on Friday he would be willing to share the state’s responses.
“I would have no problem with it,” Cuomo said. “I would have to have the lawyers talk to the Department of Justice. But I would have no problem with it.”
Also Friday, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand confirmed her knowledge of a federal investigation into Cuomo’s administration, first reported by the Albany Times-Union Wednesday night.
“I’m certainly aware that there is already an investigation ongoing on the federal level, and I will of course monitor that,” Gillibrand said.
Cuomo’s senior advisor Rich Azzopardi said Thursday the administration has been cooperating with The Department of Justice, and will continue to do so.
The DOJ first reached out to Cuomo’s office on August 26th.
“We provided the Department of Justice with truthful information in our response,” Cuomo said. “It is a lie to say any numbers were inaccurate.”
The state received a second letter from federal authorities in October. The Times-Union report said the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn are now in the early stages of an investigation.
The nursing home issue boiled over last Wednesday, when in a meeting with lawmakers, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa admitted the administration “froze” on a request from the legislature for details on nursing homes. Governor Cuomo has admitted this week the lack of public information created a “void”.
“Not only did we create a void,” Cuomo said. “We didn’t fight back against the lies and the politics and the distortions aggressively enough.”
More than 13,000 nursing home residents in New York have died from COVID-19. That includes about 4,000 people who died in a hospital, which was long-sought information the administration didn’t release until late January.
Meanwhile, the Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative-leaning think tank, released a report late Thursday night on the state’s controversial March 25th guidance to nursing homes. That guidance prohibited facilities from denying admission to a resident on the sole basis of a COVID-19 diagnosis.
“We found a statistical correlation between patients being admitted to nursing homes with coronavirus and higher death rates in those nursing homes,” said Bill Hammond, Senior Fellow for Health Policy at the Empire Center.
The New York State Attorney General’s office noted in a report issued late last month that the guidance, “was consistent with the CMS guidance on March 4 that said nursing homes should accept residents they would have normally admitted, even if from a hospital with COVID-19, and that patients from hospitals can be transferred to nursing homes if the nursing homes have the ability to adhere to infection prevention and control recommendations.”
The Empire Center’s report also found the order was not the “sole or primary cause” of the heavy death toll in nursing homes. New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement that finding “is consistent with the Department of Health’s analysis that found the March 25 guidance was not a driver of COVID infections and fatalities and COVID was introduced to nursing homes primarily through staff and visitors.”
“I would agree that it was not the sole or primary cause. But there was an effect,” Hammond countered.