A group of state Senate Democrats — fed up with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic — on Tuesday advanced bills that would bolster accountability and oversight of the facilities as well as of the state Health Department.
The move by the legislative body’s Health Committee to OK the bills for a full Senate vote comes amid a state nursing-home crisis that has seen nearly 15,000 residents die of the disease and both Cuomo and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker raked over the coals for trying to keep that number from the public.
Cuomo’s critics blame his administration for causing deaths by forcing nursing-home residents hospitalized with COVID-19 to be returned to the vulnerable facilities amid a hospital-bed shortage — and then for underreporting coronavirus fatalities tied to the long-term-care centers.
State Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx), chairman of the Health Committee, accused the Democratic governor Tuesday of “stonewalling” the state legislature for months by refusing to release complete figures on the number of nursing-home residents who died from the coronavirus.
Rivera said Cuomo and state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker sat on the data — until state Attorney General Letitia James late last month issued a scathing report accusing the administration of misleading the public by undercounting the deaths by 50 percent.
“As we suspected and feared, the second floor had been stonewalling us,” Rivera said during a virtual public committee meeting on the bills, referring to the governor’s office on the second floor in the state Capitol building in Albany.
The Health Department, when reporting nursing-home deaths, had only been including the roughly 8,700 residents at the time who died in a long-term-care facility, not those who succumbed to the virus in hospitals.
Hours after the release of the attorney general’s report, Zucker started coming clean by revealing that at least 4,000 more nursing-home residents had died of COVID-19 in hospitals.
One of the Senate bills under review Tuesday and sponsored by Rivera would require the Health Department to report on the deaths of all nursing-home residents, including those “who were transferred to a hospital and died in the hospital.’’
The bill, if signed into law, would apply retroactively to March 1, 2020, as the pandemic was starting in the US.
“For us to make good policy, you have to have good information … so we can prevent unnecessary deaths,” Rivera said.
Republican state lawmakers jumped on the Cuomo-bashing bandwagon.
“For the families of those who lost loved ones in nursing homes, please know that today is one more step toward accountability — but the path is far from over,” state Senate Majority Leader Rob Ortt of Lockport said.
He and other GOPers are pushing for a probe into the state’s actions by the federal Department of Justice.
“The legislature should hold bipartisan hearings, using subpoena power, and the Department of Justice should expand its efforts to look into what happened here,” said state Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay of Syracuse.
Cuomo spokesman Gary Holmes responded in an e-mail to The Post, “We said we would release additional data once our audit was complete and ahead of the commissioner’s budget testimony. We’re doing that.”
“While the AG’s report correctly pointed to the Department’s efforts to support staffing, testing, PPE and conduct inspections, it incorrectly captured the data, so we released what had been audited by that point to set the record straight.”