Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Blames COVID-19 Nursing Home Order on Unknown Staffer During Testimony to Congress -
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Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Blames COVID-19 Nursing Home Order on Unknown Staffer During Testimony to Congress

On June 11, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told Congress members that he was not responsible for an order requiring nursing homes to accept residents discharged from hospitals, even if they were still infected with COVID-19, according to lawmakers present in the room.

Mr. Cuomo did “tell us that he did not know that this directive existed, that he did not authorize it, that his Department of Health Commissioner did not authorize it, that somehow it just popped up from an unknown staff member,” Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) told reporters in a briefing after the closed-door hearing.

Ms. Malliotakis said it was “outrageous” that the governor claimed he was unaware the mandate originated from his administration.

“The governor finds out about this directive that kills thousands of seniors a month later,” she said. “And he did not do an internal investigation to find out who this lowly staff member, who’s still unknown, who that person was? That to me is unconscionable.”

The directive issued by the New York Department of Health on March 25, 2020, specified that nursing home operators were required to admit residents even if they tested positive for COVID-19. The order stated, “No resident shall be denied readmission or admission to a nursing home solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19.”

Nursing homes were additionally prohibited from mandating COVID-19 testing if hospital staff determined residents were medically stable before discharge. Governor Cuomo emphasized that nursing home operators faced the risk of losing their licenses or being fined for non-compliance with state policies.

According to state data, over 15,000 nursing home residents in New York state died of COVID-19. These figures were later adjusted upwards following Mr. Cuomo’s departure from office, as multiple state agencies discovered that the Cuomo administration had previously underestimated nursing home deaths.

In May 2021, Mr. Cuomo partially reversed the order but retained other components for several more months.

Mr. Cuomo has asserted that healthcare workers and residents’ family members were responsible for bringing COVID-19 into nursing homes. He has shifted blame to the Trump administration for the directive, citing guidance from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) permitting nursing homes to admit patients with COVID-19.

Nevertheless, the guidance, referencing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emphasized that facilities should only accept such patients if they could adhere to specific protocols. These protocols included isolating patients in their own wing for a two-week period.

In remarks to reporters before the hearing on Tuesday, Mr. Cuomo said that “the investigations say New York followed the federal guidance.” He also said New York did well during the pandemic, but that “the federal government failed this nation.”

Mr. Cuomo testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic after being issued a subpoena.

During the deposition, he admitted that the wording in the New York mandate differed from the CMS guidance, according to Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.).

Mr. Cuomo also told lawmakers that if nursing home operators could not care for residents, “they should have rejected them,” Ms. Malliotakis, a member of the panel, said. “But it doesn’t say that anywhere in the directive that you had that opportunity to reject someone if you could not care for them.”

Mr. Cuomo also indicated that, given his current understanding, he wouldn’t alter the directive. However, reflecting on the past, he acknowledged the need for better communication about it, as reported by members present during the discussion.

Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.), said that she’s spoken with operators who told her “there was no way out.”

“They were threatened. They were intimidated into if they did not take these nursing home patients,” she said.

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