Appearing virtually at a legislative hearing, State Health commissioner Howard Zucker tried to answer question after question about the more than 6,000 deaths in state-regulated nursing homes since the outbreak of the coronavirus in March.
The Cuomo administration issued its own report explaining why its policies did not contribute to the high number of fatalities, but lawmakers remain skeptical.
In its own tally, the Cuomo administration fails to include deaths of nursing home residents who were transferred to hospitals for treatment.
“It seems to me that the definition that you are insisting on keeping on the books is one that no other state utilizes and it makes you look better than what y’all did, that’s a problem, bro,” said the Democrat State Senator Gustavo Rivera, who represents the Bronx.
“I will not provide information that I’m sure is absolutely accurate and out there,” Zucker responded. “And I’ve done that on so many other things that you and I have worked on.”
At issue is a March 25 directive from the Department of Health ordering nursing home residents back into facilities after being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals. The Cuomo administration denies this led to the spread of the disease and instead have blamed the staff of the homes.
“It is unacceptable,” said Republican State Senator Pamela Helma. “It’s frustrating, and it’s heartbreaking for many New Yorkers, including my family, who lost a loved one living in a burins home during this pandemic.”
Zucker was also asked about an immunity clause for health-care facilities, which was placed in the April state budget at the eleventh hour, and voted on by lawmakers, some of whom claim they did not know that provision was added.
“So, for women of color who are already receiving a lower standard of care during child birth in the state of New York, how does immunity for their doctors protect them?” asked Democrat Alessandra Biaggi.
“No one is saying that we are allowing bad actors to act in the community,” Zucker said in reply. “Doctors or anyone else. And believe me, as a physician, I am well aware of that.”
Monday’s hearing was the first of two focusing specifically on nursing home deaths. Today’s concentrated on downstate facilities, including here in the city. Next week’s hearing will focus on upstate nursing homes, some of which reported no deaths at all during the crisis.
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