ALBANY, N.Y. (WWNY) - Governor Andrew Cuomo is fighting back against allegations that his administration knowingly undercounted COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents.
He’s is facing heavy fire from Republicans and Democrats alike.
The accusations that he was not straightforward about the number of COVID deaths in nursing homes has led to more scrutiny of the emergency powers Cuomo was given last year and continues to wield.
In a lengthy defense Monday, the governor denied covering up nursing home deaths and said the release of information could have been handled better.
“I am in charge. I take responsibility. We should have provided more information faster. We were too focused on doing the job and the crisis of the moment and we didn’t do a good enough job in providing information and I take full responsibly for that. The pain in it is it created confusion and pain for the families of the loved ones,” he said.
Cuomo explained his administration “paused” state lawmakers’ requests for the data because it decided a similar request from the U.S. Department of Justice was a priority.
He said the state Assembly and Senate were both informed about it at the time.
“And we told them we were going to deal with the Department of Justice first. Also, by the way, because we were busy with managing the pandemic, right? Everything takes time,” said Cuomo.
For months, the Cuomo administration counted nursing home deaths only for people who died from COVID while in the nursing home, and excluding people who were taken from a nursing home to the hospital and died.
Under pressure from a critical report by the state’s Attorney General, which found that deaths were under-counted by as much as 50 percent, the health department began including nursing home residents who died in the hospital as nursing home deaths.
Last week, the state released data saying more than 15,000 residents of nursing homes and related facilities in New York died of COVID-19.
The number is far higher than the 9,000 deaths the Cuomo administration was originally reporting.
Last week, Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, told Democratic lawmakers that the Cuomo administration had been concerned about the DOJ request and that the data was “going to be used against us.”
Cuomo’s critics believe the governor covered up the true number of nursing home deaths last spring in order to conceal the effects of an order from his health department - that COVID-positive patients must be admitted to nursing homes, as long as the nursing homes could care for them.
Cuomo’s critics believe that allowed the virus to spread and killed thousands of people needlessly.
Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay wants the state Legislature to cancel this week’s winter break and hold a special session concerning the handling of data.
Barclay, a Republican from Oswego County, wants lawmakers to strip Cuomo of the emergency executive powers they granted him last year to address the pandemic.
“Certainly, the nursing home, and the fact that that bombshell hit this week, I think really put this thing on steroids and really made a lot of people, both Republican and Democrats in the Legislature think, okay, this is time that we pull back on his powers,” said Barclay.
A spokesperson for north country Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush says he supports Barclay’s plan.
The governor, by law, has those unprecedented powers until April 30, but Barclay says the Legislature should take them away this week.
CNN is reporting that New York’s Democratic leaders are in active discussions to draft a bill to repeal Cuomo’s expanded executive powers.
Cuomo said Monday, “The Legislature can reverse any action that I take - not even by a bill, just by passing 50 percent of the Assembly and the Senate. They have never reversed a single action.”
CNN reported that a bill to repeal Cuomo’s emergency powers is likely to be introduced this week in Albany and voted upon early next week.