Guest Column from Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay
It took an investigation from New York Attorney General Letitia James to finally get clarity on the true number of nursing homes residents who died during the COVID-19 pandemic. That information should have been provided months ago by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Health. Nevertheless, what we learned from the attorney general’s investigation is nothing short of an atrocity.
Gov. Cuomo and his administration misled residents, media, lawmakers, and most importantly, the families of those who died in state care in a shameful attempt to avoid responsibility for questionable policies that may have contributed to the deaths of potentially 13,000 New Yorkers. According to the attorney general, the actual number of nursing home residents that died was underreported by administration officials by as much as 50 percent. Sadly, the report confirms what many of us suspected, the months-long information blackout from the health department was strategic and intentional. The administration must now admit to its mistake – and gross negligence.
The hypocrisy of what we witnessed this week is stunning. Day after day, we watched the governor perch himself in front of the cameras and proclaim his expert competence and crisis management. At one point, he dismissed rumors of underreported nursing home deaths to conspiracy theories of “life on Mars.” He has issued executive order after executive order personally dictating every step of the state’s response – and refuses to relinquish emergency powers intended only for the immediate days after the outbreak started. So proud of his leadership efforts mitigating the crisis, he even wrote a book about it. But, where the rubber meets the road, Andrew Cuomo failed the people of New York.
Now that we have a better idea of the true scope of what actually happened, there are so many more questions that must be answered. Why was the administration able to keep these numbers secret for so long? Why did they keep these numbers so closely guarded, denying FOIL requests and demands from legislators? Why didn’t Democrats in the Majority Conferences push for a subpoena of the relevant data? How will they be held accountable for their failure to protect one of the state’s most vulnerable populations? Why would we trust this administration to provide accurate and reliable information moving forward?
With the information in this report now public, it is critical lawmakers take the needed steps to address the governor’s failures and ensure nothing like this happens again in our state. We are still in the middle of a public-health emergency, and we simply cannot afford anymore missteps. If New York is going to come out of this pandemic stronger and more resilient than ever, we need leaders who are committed to truth and transparency – two elements that have been sorely lacking.