Viewpoint: Nursing home ‘scandal’ aims at stripping Cuomo of his political capital

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Karen Rubin Columnist

The governor intimidated officials to lie about COVID infections and deaths, sent stormtroopers, guns out, to arrest a fired official who continued to publish the real data. Cuomo? No, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (now being pitched as a 2024 presidential candidate).

The governor advanced policies that set the stage for a catastrophic failure of power and water and will force those who can least afford it to pay astronomical utility rates. Cuomo? No, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who instead of holding for-profit utility companies responsible, blamed New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the non-existent Green New Deal. Calls to impeach Abbott?

The “Former Guy” knew in January 2020 how transmissible, how lethal COVID-19 was, but lied, intimidated governors to keep their economy open, reduced funding for testing, forced workers back to unsafe conditions, contradicted the need to wear masks, held super-spreader events and attacked Democratic governors directly who did not kowtow (“Liberate Michigan!”).

He sent his politicized Department of Justice to demand Democratic governors provide nursing home data to sow distrust in their authority. Twice-impeached Trump is now the leading Republican candidate for 2024.

Some 7,500 nursing home residents who died of COVID-19 in hospitals were counted as having died in hospitals, rather than having died in nursing homes where they did not die – about half of the 15,000 nursing home residents who reportedly died of the coronavirus.

Are these 7,500 people who died who were not previously counted? No. Would they not have died if their numbers were listed as having died in the nursing home, where they did not die? Not a single person died as a result of accounting.

But this is the scandal that is swirling around Governor Andrew Cuomo, that has prompted investigations by Attorney General Letitia James and the FBI (!), calls (from gleeful Republicans) for him to resign, and for Democrats as well as Republicans to rescind the emergency powers he used that saved tens of thousands of New Yorkers’ lives, powers that reversed New York from being the epicenter of the world’s COVID crisis to the lowest infection rate, and prevented hospitals from being overrun so patients did not die from lack of care.

I frankly trust Cuomo more than I trust state Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens) or state Assemblyman Ed Ra (R-Franklin Square), two who have been his most vocal accusers, to do what is in the best interest of New Yorkers to conquer the coronavirus and rebuild the economy.

Kim’s counting scandal centers around nursing home immunity from lawsuits arising from loved ones dying of COVID – immunity that Cuomo is blamed for slipping into the budget, which the outraged Legislature repealed a few months later. Kim wants families to be able to sue the nursing homes for the period when they ostensibly had immunity and wants a victims compensation fund.

Tangentially, what is used to gin up outrage stems from the policy of discharging nursing home patients from hospital back to their nursing homes, at a time when the state was literally ambushed with COVID.

The early projections were horrifying: 140,000 needing hospital beds in the state with 50,000 beds (30,000 downstate), including 37,000 in ICUs, and not enough staff to provide care. The panic was that New York would become like Italy (death panels!), and surely, Elmhurst came close, with refrigerator trucks parked outside hospitals to handle the overwhelming number of dead.

“So, the question is what does one do?,” state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker related. “We need to protect the healthcare system by balancing the patient load. People die if you cannot get them into the hospital or staff are overstretched as a result of those numbers.”

Patients no longer in need of hospital care were sent to nursing homes; the nursing home could refuse to take the patient if they did not have the means to properly segregate and care for them.

Once it was realized that the source of COVID in nursing homes came from staff and visitors who were asymptomatic, new protocols were instituted. Cuomo just issued a new order allowing visitors back into nursing homes if they are tested, and at the same time, unveiled a new network for rapid-testing.

The fact 132 facilities that never took a COVID admission from the hospital still had COVID fatalities proves that the policy was not the driver of COVID fatalities but rather a function of community spread, Zucker asserted. Indeed, while every state had a higher proportion of COVID deaths among nursing home residents, New York ranked 34th.

“Because remember, the modeling—140,000 hospitalizations, 37,000 in the ICU,” Zucker said. “You make the decisions based on the information that you have at the time. We made the right public health decision at the time, and faced with the same facts we would make the same decisions again.”

“And if anyone had the perfect answer to nursing home deaths if anyone tells you they do, they’re lying,” Cuomo added. “Because people are going to die in nursing homes today…It really is cruel to say to people who’ve lost a loved one, maybe they didn’t have to die. It’s cruel.”

In response to the “scandal” Cuomo has introduced sweeping nursing home reform legislation to increase transparency, hold nursing home operators accountable for misconduct and help ensure facilities are prioritizing patient care over profits as part of the 30-day amendments.

It’s been a year now that we have been living through the coronavirus crisis. Through it all, Cuomo was the nation’s voice of calm, the model of competence and leadership, who insisted on using scientific expertise to drive policy.

He created a new pandemic playbook – one that will be pulled out over and over again. He set up the most available, accessible testing system in the country, and now has set up the most available, accessible, equitable vaccination system anywhere. His use of metrics – the valve for reopening or closing depending upon the rate of COVID infection and hospitalizations in a community – has proved most effective in terms of getting the coronavirus under control amid changing conditions as a prerequisite to revitalizing the economy.

It translates into political power and political capital – capital Cuomo can spend for his Build Back Better agenda of bold infrastructure development that transitions to clean, renewable energy and sustainable economy, that corrects inequities in wealth, education, criminal justice and health care.

That’s what this “scandal” is all about: stripping Cuomo of his well-earned political capital.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Karen, your article is insulting as hell to those who lost loved ones due to Cuomo’s arrogant and irresponsible decision to send covid positive patients back to nursing homes. They didn’t die because of accounting, Cuomo killed them by infecting them. Yes, the former guy built him a 1,000 bed hospital at Javits Center and sent him a 1,000 bed Mercy to keep hospitals available for covid patients. What did Cuomo do? He sent positive grandpa to infect and super spread. Then he misguided the Federal government and public to think grandma died at hospital. Do your research Karen. Oh, btw, sorry your name is Karen.

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