New York Senate Democrats have blocked GOP efforts to subpoena Governor Andrew Cuomo over alleged manipulation of numbers of elderly deaths in the state’s nursing homes.
Senate Republicans introduced a motion to subpoena Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. The idea is to demand testimony related to the number of elderly deaths in nursing homes.
Senator Thomas O’Mara, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations, surprised the committee’s chairman, Hudson Valley Democratic Senator James Skoufis, when he made the motion for committee members to vote to subpoena Zucker.
Long Island Senator Anthony Palumbo, the only other Republican committee member, quickly seconded the motion and expressed doubt that state officials under governor Andrew Cuomo would release accurate information.
“If it’s not done immediately or in the very near future, we would be derelict in our duties because we are the only committee that has this kind of oversight,” Palumbo said.
Under Senate rules, the chair, vice-chair or majority of a legislative committee can issue a subpoena, so the power can be invoked within any committee, not just the investigating committee.
Senator Thomas O’Mara denounced on Fox News that the Democratic party seeks to block subpoenas to Cuomo and his health care team. He pointed out that the Democrats’ allegation is that, in order for the subpoena to be issued, it must be approved by the New York Senate. However, O’Mara is certain that it would not be a subpoena by the Senate but by a particular committee.
O’Mara stated that he has been asking for the subpoena for 8 to 9 months but “they won’t even allow there to be a vote in the committee” and added that “they shut down his microphone when he asked for it.” He called Democrats “complicit” in what he called an effort to cover up the total number of deaths involving nursing home patients.
Impetus for the subpoena increased when Attorney General Letitia James released a report condemning the COVID -19 plan for New York nursing homes and the false numbers issued by the governor’s office.
O’Mara said the public deserves to have the information now to evaluate the Cuomo Administration’s handling of the crisis. He noted that the information had been promised since months ago, but remains under wraps.
Sen. Pete Oberacker, R-Schenevus, said he “wholeheartedly” backs O’Mara in the push to legally compel disclosure of the nursing home data.
“We need the subpoena power to get to the bottom of the situation,” Oberacker said. He also said it’s time for lawmakers to now cancel the emergency pandemic powers granted to Cuomo nearly a year ago.
Cuomo Administration modifies number of elderly deaths
Following an attorney general’s report that showed Governor Andrew Cuomo downplayed the pandemic’s deadly impact on nursing homes, the health commissioner had to reveal a new figure that was 56% (4,200) higher than the initial figure.
The 76-page report, released by the attorney general, records a study of nursing homes that found consistent discrepancies between deaths reported to the attorney general’s investigators and those officially released by the state’s Department of Health (DOH).
Howard Zucker released figures that put the count of confirmed and suspected deaths in both nursing homes and hospitals at 12,743 as of January 19th, only slightly less than the 13,000 claimed in the DA’s report.
Prior to Zucker’s reluctant announcement, the official count of nursing home deaths by COVID-19 included only residents who actually died there, not of those who died in a hospital.
Last Thursday, the Health Department’s website estimated that figure at 8,740 citing current data from the previous day.
The authorities’ claim is that those missing deaths occurred when the evidence was supposedly thin and lacked evidence that they were caused by COVID-19.
Zucker also chose to disavow the prosecutor’s report by asserting that he found “no evidence” that Cuomo’s March 25th order for nursing homes to admit coronavirus patients had “led to additional nursing home deaths.”
However, more than 6,300 “COVID-positive residents” were admitted to nursing homes before Cuomo rescinded the policy in May. According to the prosecutor the move may have put residents at greater risk of harm.