Aides to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo revealed that the state’s laws have been too relaxed on nursing homes, noting that no facilities have lost their licenses despite widespread COVID-19 deaths.
“I think a lot of these nursing homes, frankly, retrospectively, even prior to COVID have been getting away with a lot for a lot of years,” Secretary to Gov. Cuomo, Melissa DeRosa said, according to audio of last week’s conference call with Democratic lawmakers reviewed by The New York Post.
“I think that if there is any evidence that anyone was willful, or anyone was negligent in a way that goes beyond the normal course that costs people’s lives, I think that we all share the same goal, which is to hold them accountable,” DeRosa added.
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But when pressed by state Sen. James Skoufis (D-Orange) on what steps the state has taken to hold nursing homes accountable, Cuomo’s counsel, Beth Garvey, conceded that revoking nursing home licenses “has not happened” yet.
“We have significant due process, obviously, for those operators that we have to go through and hearings,” Garvey said. “So those are still ongoing.”
When asked if any facilities had been placed in receivership, Garvey said no receivers have been appointed as of right now.
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The New York Department of Health has reportedly conducted 2,284 infection control inspections in nursing homes between the start of the pandemic and Feb. 4. However, the audits have resulted in just 170 violations being issued, amounting to roughly $1.3 million in fines, capped at $10,000 a piece.
“Ten thousand dollars is really the maximum that we can assess for a violation, even a willful violation of a public health law,” Garvey explained.
Skoufis argues the amount “seems low given sort of the sort of knowledge that we’re all operating with,” pointing out that the violations would be roughly $7,650 per infraction, a sum he said is merely “a slap on the wrist.”
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DeRosa acknowledged the need to step up enforcement, noting that state officials could explore ways to expedite the process.
“I think that that’s something we should revisit, I think then we should be increasing the penalties,” she said. “I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t have due process. But if there is a way that we can change the law where we can expedite some of this, we should do it.”
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi told FOX News in a statement that legislators “seemed to agree with us that the fines were too low” and that “new actions are needed to further protect patients in these facilities.” He added that there is a commitment to “further discuss these vital changes.”
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The comments were made during the same meeting in which DeRosa revealed the state delayed the release of data related to COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities due to concerns about a potential federal investigation.
“I was explaining that when we received the DOJ inquiry, we needed to temporarily set aside the Legislature’s request to deal with the federal request first. We informed the houses of this at the time. We were comprehensive and transparent in our responses to the DOJ, and then had to immediately focus our resources on the second wave and vaccine rollout,” DeRosa said in a statement. “As I said on a call with legislators, we could not fulfill their request as quickly as anyone would have liked. But we are committed to being better partners going forward as we share the same goal of keeping New Yorkers as healthy as possible during the pandemic.”
But on the private call, DeRosa said the administration “froze” because it was unsure what information was going to be turned over to the Department of Justice, and didn’t want any information relayed to lawmakers to be used against the Cuomo administration.
“The letter comes in at the end of August and right around the same time, President Trump turns this into a giant political football. He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes, he starts going after [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy, starts going after [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom, starts going after [Michigan Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer,” she said, according to the partial transcript of the meeting released by the governor’s office. “He directs the Department of Justice to do an investigation into us. He finds one person at DOJ, who since has been fired because this person is now known to be a political hack, who sends letters out to all of these different governors. And 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, what we start saying was going to be used against us while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation.”
DeRosa then apologized to Democratic lawmakers for the position that they were put in due to the data.
“I know that it is not fair,” she said. “It was not our intent to put you in that political position with the Republicans.”
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In recent weeks, a court order and state attorney general report have forced the state to acknowledge the nursing home resident death toll is nearly 15,000, when it previously reported 8,500 – a number that excluded residents who died after being taken to hospitals. The new toll amounts to about one-seventh of the people living in nursing homes as of 2019 in New York.
The Associated Press contributed to this report