Friday 18 March 2022

Audit finds New York's health department under Andrew Cuomo 'misled the public,' undercounted at least 4,100 COVID nursing home deaths

 Under former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state's health agency undercounted at least 4,100 COVID-related nursing home deaths, according to a state audit. The audit conducted by state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli claimed that the Department of Health "misled the public" about nursing home deaths during the pandemic to fit a "narrative."

The 58-page report said the New York Department of Health "was not transparent in its reporting of COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes."

"While the Department’s duty is to act solely to promote public health, we determined that, rather than providing accurate and reliable information during a public health emergency, the Department instead conformed its presentation to the Executive’s narrative, often presenting data in a manner that misled the public," the report stated.

"Whether due to the poor-quality data that it was collecting initially or, later, a deliberate decision, for certain periods during the pandemic, the Department understated the number of deaths at nursing homes by as much as 50%," the report declared. 

Nearly 14,000 people died in nursing homes due to COVID-19 between March 2020 and May 2021, according to the audit.

The report also stated, "Persistent underinvestment in public health over the last decade may have limited the Department’s ability to prepare and respond in the most effective way." 

DiNapoli said in a statement, "The pandemic was devastating and deadly for New Yorkers living in nursing homes. Families have a right to know if their loved one’s COVID-19 death was counted, but many still don’t have answers from the state Department of Health."

"Our audit findings are extremely troubling," DiNapoli said. "The public was misled by those at the highest level of state government through distortion and suppression of the facts when New Yorkers deserved the truth."

The report found that the New York Department of Health failed to meet federal directives to inspect for infection control problems, reporting on only 20% of facilities between March and May 2020 – compared to over 90% for other states.

Cuomo's spokesperson – Rich Azzopardi – tried to discredit the audit.

"As the number of out of facility deaths were reported last January this is not news, however what is peculiar is the Comptroller's release of this audit now — but no one has ever accused him of being above politics," Azzopardi said.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James said the audit supported her own January 2021 investigation into allegations of the Cuomo administration undercounting COVID nursing home deaths.

"This audit affirms many of the findings that we uncovered last year about the state’s response to COVID, most notably that DOH and the former governor undercounted the number of deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%," James said in a statement. "I am grateful to Comptroller DiNapoli for bringing much needed transparency to this critical issue. My office will continue to monitor nursing home conditions and ensure the safety of our most vulnerable residents. If anyone has concerns about nursing home conditions, I urge them to contact my office."

In August 2020, Cuomo told the public to "look at the basic facts on where New York is versus other states." The disgraced Democratic ex-governor bragged at the time, "You look at where New York is as a percentage of nursing home deaths. It's all the way at the bottom of the list of states."

In February 2021, Cuomo proclaimed that he "fully reported" deaths and blamed nursing home staff for spreading COVID-19.

In February 2021, Cuomo's top aide privately told Democratic lawmakers that his administration took months to release data on COVID nursing home death because they "froze" in fear that the data was “going to be used against us."

"Basically, we froze because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice or what we give to you guys and what we start saying was going to be used against us, and we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation," Melissa DeRosa told state Democratic leaders, according to the New York Post.

In November 2020, Cuomo was selected to receive an International Emmy Founder's Award "in recognition of his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic and his masterful use of television to inform and calm people around the world."

In August 2021, the award was rescinded "in light of the New York Attorney General's report, and Andrew Cuomo's subsequent resignation as Governor."

In December 2021, the state's Joint Commission on Public Ethics ordered Cuomo to pay New York the $5.1 million in profits from his book, "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic."

Cuomo resigned due to sexual harassment allegations against him by 11 women.

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