On Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) blamed former President Donald Trump’s administration for the scandal involving his order last March directing nursing homes to admit patients who had tested positive for COVID-19. Attorney General Letitia James (D-N.Y.) released a report on COVID-19 fatalities in nursing homes, finding that the state health department had undercounted such deaths by nearly 50 percent. Cuomo deflected criticism by blaming the Trump administration.
“Where this starts is frankly a political attack from prior federal administration HHS, their great spokesperson Michael Caputo, who is a Roger Stone protege, who said we have more nursing home deaths in New York because of something that the state health department did,” Cuomo said in a press conference on Friday.
The governor repeatedly insisted that his administration “followed federal guidance.”
“Everyone did the best they could. When I say the state department of health, as the report said, … followed federal guidance,” Cuomo insisted.
He again deflected criticism toward the Trump administration.
“If you think there was a mistake, go talk to the federal government,” Cuomo said. “It’s not about pointing fingers or blame, it’s that this became a political football, right? Look, whether a person died in a hospital or died in a nursing home, it’s … people died.”
Cuomo insisted that New York has a lower percentage of deaths in nursing homes than other states, and pointed out that a third of all U.S. COVID-19 deaths trace back to nursing homes.
“We’re below the national average in number of deaths in nursing homes,” he argued. “But who cares [where people died]? … They died.”
Cuomo spoke about struggling with the loss of his own father. “The pain is so incredible and inexplicable… It’s a tragedy. And I understand, maybe, the instinct to blame and to find some relief for the pain that you’re feeling, but it is a tragedy.”
“Can you protect old people with comorbidities from COVID, totally? No. No. If we could, it would be over,” he said.
“I get the anger,” Cuomo added. “My father died, I wish I had someone to blame.”
Yet Cuomo’s department of health did not follow federal guidance on nursing homes. On March 25, the governor ordered that “no resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to [a nursing home] solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19. [Nursing homes] are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.”
He issued this order in contrast to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) guidance that explicitly does “not direct any nursing home to accept a COVID-19 positive patient, if they are unable to do so safely.” Indeed, the guidance urges that “nursing homes should admit any individual that they would normally admit to their facility, including individuals from hospitals where a case of COVID-19 was/is present” only if the nursing home can follow CDC guidance.
CMS Administrator Seema Verma also warned, “Under no circumstances should a hospital discharge a patient to a nursing home that is not prepared to take care of those patients’ needs.”
According to a study of over 1,000 patients admitted to the hospital with the coronavirus in New York City, over 90 percent contracted the virus from close contact with an infected person, including sheltering at home or contained living situations like in nursing homes and jails.
Cuomo cannot deflect blame for his horrific nursing home policy to the federal government, and he cannot dismiss criticism of that policy as a baseless attack from Trump’s HHS spokesman.
In Albany holding a COVID briefing. Watch live: https://t.co/SImtSMCdl4
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) January 29, 2021
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.