New York lawmakers grill Cuomo's health commissioner over nursing homes

Commissioner of NYS Department of Health Doctor Howard Zucker speaks during Gov. Andrew Cuomo's coronavirus briefing in Manhasset, New York.

Health Commissioner Howard Zucker got here underneath a five-hour digital grilling as lawmakers sought extra particulars about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s nursing house insurance policies. | Al Bello/Getty Photos

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s health commissioner got here underneath a five-hour digital grilling on Thursday as lawmakers, together with a few of Cuomo’s fellow Democrats, sought extra particulars in regards to the governor’s nursing house insurance policies in the course of the earliest weeks of the coronavirus pandemic final spring.

Through the usually contentious listening to, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker stood by the Cuomo administration’s longstanding assertion that asymptomatic unfold amongst nursing house staff — and never the admission of Covid sufferers in these amenities — led to viral outbreaks and deaths. He accused critics of trying to “politicize” the difficulty.

Senate Health Committee Chair Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat and vocal critic of Cuomo, accused the administration of “bobbing and weaving” on questions associated to the state’s nursing house insurance policies.

“Simply breathe and say you don’t get every thing proper,” he mentioned. “From time to time it’s OK to say that you simply didn’t get every thing proper. And maybe, working together with your colleagues like us and localities, you’d perform a little bit higher.”

Zucker’s testimony, which had been rescheduled from early February, got here shortly after a prime Cuomo ally, Steve Cohen, made a preemptive attempt to “clarify certain issues referring to the continuing nursing house dialogue.”

Cohen, an occasional authorized adviser and counsel to the governor’s workplace who had not taken a distinguished position within the nursing house debate, urged lawmakers to concentrate on the governor’s funds proposals, which was the ostensible objective of the listening to.

That request, nonetheless, was doomed to failure as lawmakers pressed Zucker and different state officers about insurance policies enacted within the wake of the pandemic and expressed frustration over the transparency surrounding these selections.

Republicans, who’ve led the cost in opposition to Cuomo on nursing homes, continued to take situation with the state’s coverage of transferring Covid sufferers from hosptials to nursing homes. They questioned why the order, issued on March 25 of final 12 months, was rescinded if it didn’t contribute to Covid-19 deaths in long-term care amenities, and pressed the administration to “apologize.”

“In the end, will you and the Cuomo Administration admit to your culpability in these deaths and at last situation an apology to the hundreds of households impacted?” requested Sen. Jim Tedisco (R-Glenville).

Zucker, who accused critics of pushing “a variety of fiction” across the order, argued that knowledge helps the Division of Health’s July report which discovered hundreds of Covid-19-related long-term care deaths in New York — and throughout the nation — have been largely pushed by neighborhood unfold from contaminated employees or guests within the early days of the pandemic.

“There have been 37,000 employees who ended up having Covid they usually introduced it in — inadvertently — at a time after we didn’t find out about asymptomatic unfold,” he mentioned. “Keep in mind, again then, we requested the worldwide and nationwide specialists — we requested [Dr. Anthony] Fauci himself and he mentioned, ‘you understand, asymptomatic unfold shouldn’t be a driver of the pandemic’ — so that they introduced it in inadvertently and that’s the way it unfold.”

Zucker added that the March order was not “rescinded,” however that completely different steerage was issued. He additionally rejected claims that the administration engaged in a “cover-up” when it got here to the discharge of long-awaited knowledge relating to long-term care facility residents who died from Covid-19 in hospitals.

Cohen, in the meantime, echoed the governor’s longstanding arguments that there was a priority in regards to the politicization of Donald Trump’s Division of Justice after the DOJ introduced that it will examine the scenario in New York. Cohen additionally asserted that gathering the information was a time-consuming and complex course of.

The governor has declined to apologize for his administration’s determination to let Covid-19 sufferers into nursing homes, however mentioned his administration “made a mistake in creating the void” that allowed for “misinformation and conspiracy.”

He has additionally pledged to enact a slate of nursing house reform proposals, introduced as part of his 30-day amendments to his funds, together with new penalties for public health regulation violations, direct care spending ratios and an emergency receiver appointment course of.

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