New York State Senate Democrats blocked a subpoena for nursing home fatality data on Monday, mere days after New York Attorney General Letitia James released a damning report indicating Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) administration had “undercounted” the number of coronavirus-related fatalities in nursing homes “by as much as 50 percent.”
Sen. Thomas O’Mara, the top Republican serving on the Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations, made the motion on Monday during a virtual meeting. The Republican lawmaker said he wanted to “make sure we get to the bottom” of the irregularities in reporting the data on coronavirus-related fatalities in nursing homes.
The motion followed last week’s report from New York Attorney General Letitia James, which indicated “a larger number of nursing home residents died from COVID-19 than the New York State Department of Health’s (DOH) published nursing home data reflected and may have been undercounted by as much as 50 percent.”
Health Commissioner Howard Zucker spoke out after the report came out and said the number of coronavirus-related fatalities in nursing homes stood at 12,743. As the New York Post reported, “that figure was about 4,000 more nursing home resident deaths than previously reported — confirming the attorney general’s finding.”
O’Mara said they considered issuing a subpoena over the course of the last year. Even Sen. James Skoufis, the Democrat chairman of the Investigations Committee, threatened to subpoena the department of health. However, he made his threat prior to the release of the state attorney general’s report, putting him at odds with his Republican colleague on Monday.
As the Post reported:
And then during Monday’s committee meeting, he argued that O’Mara’s motion to issue a subpoena was largely moot after Zucker was forced to release an updated tally of nursing home deaths — that included those who died in hospitals — following James’ release of her report.
He said he expected Zucker to release more information when he testifies during a Feb. 25 budget hearing.
The chief lawyer for the investigations panel then claimed the motion was procedurally out of order because it had not been submitted in writing.
“This is a political motion,” Skoufis claimed, adding that the committee will not “be bullied into doing something after we laid out a road map to getting information.” O’Mara maintained that the public is not “getting the full picture from Attorney General James’ report.”
Cuomo defended his administration, which initially instructed nursing homes to take coronavirus positive patients, following the release of the report, telling reporters that his state actually has “a lower percentage of deaths in nursing homes than other states.”
“But we’re below the national average in number of deaths in nursing homes. But who cares? Thirty-three [percent], 28 [percent], died in a hospital, died in a nursing home,” Cuomo said at the January 29 press conference. “They died.”