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Cuomo deflects blame for nursing home deaths


Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended his administration against a critical report on nursing home deaths in New York during the COVID-19 pandemic a day after it was released. On Friday, he also blamed what he called an “ongoing political attack” for the controversy over the number of deaths.

The report by Attorney General Tish James, a Cuomo ally, found that New York undercounted by 50 percent the number of nursing home residents who died in the first surge of the pandemic last spring.

Cuomo pushed back on the report Friday and said that officials in his administration did not intentionally do anything wrong, including when they carried out a March 25 directive that required nursing homes to accept residents with COVID-19 discharged from hospitals. Critics have said that order led to a spread of the virus in the facilities.
  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“I believe everybody did the best they could,” Cuomo said. “I believe the state Department of Health, they gave their best guidance and made the best decisions on the facts they had.”

Cuomo said the controversy began during the administration of former President Donald Trump, and he blamed, among others, former Trump assistant health secretary and western New York political operative Michael Caputo for what he said were politically motivated attacks.

Cuomo said all of the nursing home deaths were tragedies, and he said he understands that angry and grieving relatives are simply looking for someone to blame. But he said it was “mean” of his political opponents to stir them up.

“It put a thought in your head … ‘Maybe my father died unnecessarily.’ And that was just cruel to do,” Cuomo said. “That was just cruel. Because it wasn’t true.”

Caputo said in a statement that Cuomo’s “foolish” executive order was the “primary cause of thousands of nursing home COVID deaths in New York” and that the governor must be “held accountable.”

Several hours after James released the report, Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker released an updated number of deaths of nursing home residents. It showed over 12,700 — or 43 percent — more died than the state had been reporting. Zucker for months had stonewalled requests by lawmakers and the media to share the data, but he said he changed his mind after the report.

“When I saw the attorney general report, I decided that we need to finish that up quickly and get these numbers out in real time,” Zucker said.

Zucker said he had been saving the reveal of the numbers for an upcoming budget hearing in February. And he said it was “factually inaccurate” for the attorney general to say there was an undercount of deaths. He said the deaths were counted; they were just listed with all of the others who died in hospitals.

“The total number of deaths has not changed,” Zucker said.

Cuomo and Zucker also cast blame on the nursing homes themselves and said it was up to the homes to give the health department the correct numbers. The governor added that the attorney general’s report finds that the data from the nursing homes was “sketchy,” and that the health department is continuing to audit those numbers.

Karen DeWitt is WXXI's Albany Correspondent.