Cuomo silent as damning watchdog report says policy may have led to over 1,000 nursing home deaths

New York gov's directive likely responsible for the deaths during coronavirus pandemic, Albany watchdog says

An Albany-based watchdog group says that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's nursing home directive was likely responsible for more than 1,000 additional resident deaths during the coronavirus pandemic, despite numerous denials by the administration that their order was heavily to blame. 

Cuomo's office has been silent on the contents of the report released by the nonprofit Empire Center for Public Policy on Thursday and reviewed by Fox News, which relies on the information provided to them by the New York State Department of Health (DOH). The governor is facing intense backlash over the scandal, including a federal probe into his administration's handling of the crisis. The focus on Cuomo comes as liberal CNN and the governor's brother, host Chris Cuomo, have given the Democrat's controversies little to no airtime. Previously, the network gave Chris Cuomo free rein to conduct friendly, comical interviews with the governor, who wrote a book about successfully handling the pandemic in the middle of the pandemic.

The watchdog group's analysis, which compared the death rates at facilities that admitted COVID-19 patients discharged from hospitals to the rates at others that didn’t, suggests the controversial mandate by Cuomo is "associated with" more than one in six of 5,780 nursing deaths statewide between late March and early May.

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"Statewide, the findings imply that COVID-positive new admissions between late March and early May, which numbered 6,327, were associated with several hundred and possibly more than 1,000 additional resident deaths," the report said. 

A spokesperson for Cuomo did not respond to Fox News' request for comment on Friday. 

The time table examines the period between March 25 and May 10, when Cuomo directed nursing homes to admit patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 in an effort to alleviate overcrowding in hospitals. He later rescinded the order after nearly two months. 

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The move proved to be deadly and the issue compounded by Cuomo's administration, which stonewalled Justice Department (DOJ) investigators by withholding data on the number of coronavirus deaths in the state to avoid blame for the plight that occurred in assisted living facilities. 

A state Health Department (DOH) official defended the administration to Fox News, saying that the watchdog group used "narrowly selected data to fit a preset conclusion." 

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The Empire Center found that nursing homes outside New York City and its suburbs had escalated death tolls after accepting COVID-19 patients into their facilities, averaging 9.3 more deaths per facility than those that didn’t, according to the report.

Meanwhile, DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker pointed to another portion of the watchdog's findings, which said Cuomo's directive was not the sole contributor to the 15,049 deaths in nursing homes, adding that it was in line with the health department's assessment. 

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"The Empire Center’s conclusion that ‘the data indicate that the March 25 memo was not the sole or primary cause of the heavy death toll in nursing homes’ and that COVID-19 ‘wreaked havoc in nursing homes across the country and around the world, including in jurisdictions that did not adopt policies similar to the March 25 guidance memo’ is consistent with the Department of Health’s analysis that found the March 25 guidance was not a driver of COVID infections and fatalities and COVID was introduced to nursing homes primarily through staff and visitors," Zucker said in a statement to Fox News. 

The portion of the Empire Center's report that Zucker referred to, however, also claimed that "[a]t the same time, the findings contradict a central conclusion of the Health Department’s July 6 report on coronavirus in nursing homes." 

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The watchdog group said the health department's claims that "[a]dmission policies were not a significant factor in nursing home fatalities" and "[t]he data do not show a consistent relationship between admissions and increased mortality" were not supported by their findings. 

"This analysis indicates that the guidance may have made a bad situation worse," the Empire Center said of Cuomo's order. 

The watchdog group later condemned Zucker and Cuomo's insistence that nursing home staff, not patients admitted to nursing homes via the directive, were the primary driver for an increase in positive cases. 

"Unfortunately, instead of learning from devastating policy mistakes, Governor Cuomo’s Health Department continues to misrepresent the truth," the watchdog group said.

"The salient policy question isn’t whether the March 25th memo introduced COVID into nursing homes, but whether it contributed to higher infection and mortality rates."

"The department’s comments show that it either doesn’t understand statistics, or is willfully ignoring our findings. Our analysis does, in fact, show a consistent relationship between transfers from hospitals to nursing homes and COVID fatalities. These findings were robust to several statistical assumptions."

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The DOJ review of Cuomo's nursing home directive is just one in a string of investigations surrounding the state. On Thursday, the FBI and the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s Office announced a separate investigation into Cuomo's pandemic response. 

Fox News' Tamara Gitt contributed to this report.