A growing number of Democrats have joined the list of lawmakers calling for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's extensive emergency pandemic powers to be restricted, echoing what Republicans have said for several months. On Monday, Democrat State Assembly Speaker Carl Hastie said that action must be taken against the Cuomo administration for withholding information on COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes.
Hastie said Democrats in the Assembly met for 6 hours on Monday to discuss how to proceed, adding, "I do think there's a consensus of the members that they want to take some action. We're still trying to come to a place where all the members are comfortable, and I don't know if we're there yet."
FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, file photo, families of COVID-19 victims who passed away in New York nursing homes gather in front of the Cobble Hill Health Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York to demand New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo apologize for his response to clusters in nursing homes during the pandemic. More than 9,000 recovering coronavirus patients in New York state were released from hospitals into nursing homes at the height of the pandemic under a controversial order that was scrapped amid criticisms it accelerated outbreaks, according to new records obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)
Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (D-Tarrytown) pressed fellow Democrats in the Legislature to take up a Cuomo censure resolution during a private virtual meeting. Abinanti said the state's nursing homes felt pushed to take COVID patients because they rely on government funding, especially Medicare, to care for their residents. He added: "It is time to draft and discuss a censure resolution. The Governor had withheld information in defiance of legislative requests, which appeared to be part of a cover-up of the fatal results of his intentional strategy of prematurely returning sick COVID from hospitals to nursing homes, who were unprepared to take them."
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats in the state also criticized Gov. Cuomo's handling of extended care facilities during the pandemic, passing 11 pieces of legislation just days after the Governor proposed his own set of overhauls. The legislation, which could bring significant changes to the state's nursing homes, includes a measure ordering the state Department of Health to create a new infection control inspection audit and checklist for nursing homes. The steps will also mandate transparent reporting of COVID-19 deaths, ensure facilities disclose health and safety violations in writing to residents' family members and require that they spend 70% of their revenue on patient care.
Senate GOP Leader Rob Ortt and Assembly GOP Leader Will Barclay held a press conference at the State Capitol on Monday to discuss plans to introduce a bill to rescind Cuomo's emergency powers as a hostile amendment. Ortt said 14 Senate Democrats agreed to support the push. He said there would be a vote to discover if they are genuinely committed. It has been almost a year since the state Legislature voted to give the Governor those powers, which are set to expire in April.
In early February, Sen. Liz Krueger, the top Democrat on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, who presented one of the first direct challenges from a member of the Legislature's Democratic majority, labeled the findings in Attorney General Letitia James's nursing home report "an intentional underreporting of deaths" and called on the Legislature to begin oversight hearings. Last week, Sen. Krueger called for Governor Cuomo's powers to be reviewed, again stating the AG's report that revealed New York might have undercounted the number of nursing home and long-term care facility residents who have died during the pandemic by 50%.
As previously reported, Governor Cuomo faces mounting probes from all sides, including the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn. Last week, Cuomo touted his nursing home reforms as a measure to solve the mounting issues, hoping they would be a part of upcoming budget negotiations and claiming the measures aim to improve transparency, prioritize patient care over profit, and hold nursing home operators accountable. He said, "The funding should be going to the facility and the patient care. These are not designed to be businesses and money-making machines."
Cuomo also announced that visitors would be allowed in nursing homes beginning this Friday, pool halls will be allowed to open at 50% capacity, and New York City movie theaters can open at 25% capacity. However, in a state that has been on a massive lockdown for months, many aren't buying his reforms or the motives behind them. Instead, they say Cuomo is diverting his responsibility for the thousands of nursing home deaths in New York throughout the pandemic.
Last week, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined New York Democrats in calling for an investigation into how Governor Cuomo’s administration handled the COVID-19 crisis in nursing homes. In a statement released last Friday afternoon, Ocasio-Cortez said, “Thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers lost their lives in nursing homes throughout the pandemic. Their loved ones and the public deserve answers and transparency from their elected leadership, and the Secretary to the Governor’s remarks warrant a full investigation.”