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New York Lawyer Common’s Nursing-Residence Probe Places Cuomo on Protection

New York Attorney General Letitia James’ report on how coronavirus has hit nursing homes in the state hit Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been criticized by state lawmakers for this aspect of his management of the pandemic.

According to the report, the coronavirus death toll in nursing homes was undervalued by around 50%. It prompted State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to say after his release that in addition to the 8,914 people the Department of Health believes died of Covid-19 in nursing homes, an additional 3,829 nursing home residents died of the disease after moving in Hospitals were brought.

The document, released on Thursday, revived legislative urge to investigate the deaths. Republicans and some Democrats said the state’s refusal for months to say how many nursing home residents died in hospitals left an incomplete picture of what happened and how policies might need to change.

Dr. Zucker said the health department logged deaths exactly where they occurred and made sure the hospital transfer records were accurate.

The Republicans said the state had covered up itself and they used the point to attack Mr Cuomo. Republicans have criticized a March 25 policy issued by the Department of Health stating that nursing homes cannot simply turn away patients for testing positive for coronavirus.

New York Attorney General Letitia James’ report recommends standardized public reporting of Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes.


Photo:

Kathy Willens / Associated Press

Ms. James’ report said the inclusion of such residents may have contributed to an increased risk of infection and subsequent death, but additional data analysis is required. The report recommends standardized public reporting of Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes, defines the staffing required in nursing homes and repeals liability protection for nursing home operators issued in April.

Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to the governor, said the report said the March 25 order was in line with federal guidelines and that homes should only have been allowed to accept residents if they could provide adequate care.

“We are focused on fighting this pandemic, getting the vaccines and funding the New Yorkers who need and deserve them from Washington,” he said.

The report also marked the first time Ms. James, who was elected in 2018, put Mr. Cuomo on the defensive, attorney general veterans and political observers said. The result, it is said, could mean a rockier relationship with Mr Cuomo, a Democratic colleague who approved her 2018 election bid and helped her raise funds.

“This is clearly a line of demarcation declaring its political independence,” said former Attorney General Dennis Vacco, a Republican who served from 1995 to 1999.

He said the report was “breathtaking and bold” because it highlighted a sensitive point for Mr Cuomo. “She’s kicked his Achilles heel now,” said Mr. Vacco.

State lawmakers of both parties doubled their calls for a more thorough investigation into the causes of death in nursing homes. Legislators said they expected Dr. Zucker’s planned appearance at a budget hearing in February will be controversial.

Covid-19 hits New York’s nursing homes

Mr Cuomo said at a news conference on Friday that it was not relevant where residents of nursing homes died and that he was unfamiliar with the legislation to remove liability protection. He said Republicans, including former Trump administration officials, politicized the issue. Robert Ortt, a Republican from Niagara County, said Ms. James’ report shows that concerns about nursing homes are non-partisan.

Ms. James’ office has permanent authority to investigate nursing home practices. Her spokeswoman said that Mr Cuomo requested an investigation in April and that the report was based on the information found. Most of the 76-page document dealt with shortcomings in nursing homes, including non-compliance with infection control protocols and issues exacerbated by staff shortages.

“The results, which are publicly available to everyone, are the result of the painstaking efforts of committed investigators and lawyers,” said spokeswoman Delaney Kempner. “Splashing politics would be an insult and undermine the hard work of the professionals in this office.”

Former attorney general Robert Abrams, a Democrat, said tension between attorneys general and governors is inevitable. Mr. Cuomo and former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have had several public disputes over judicial and settlement funds.

A 2007 report of state police aircraft misuse by the government at the time. Eliot Spitzer, wanted by then Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, caused problems for the Spitzer administration known as the “Troopergate”.

Mr. Abrams reiterated the old political insight that the acronym for Attorney General AG actually stands for aspiring governor, noting Messrs Spitzer and Cuomo’s paths to power.

Several political activists said they didn’t think Ms. James would challenge Mr. Cuomo if he stood for re-election in 2022. Hank Sheinkopf, a seasoned political advisor, said the report would only improve their standing.

“She was able to grab national headlines through Trump’s investigation and the takeover of the NRA,” he said. “This is obviously someone who has long-term plans, and what better way to make those plans come true if you show that you can draw with an international in the Democratic Party?”

THE QUESTION: Several New York attorneys general have become governors. Who was the last former New York attorney general to run for president?

– Do you know the answer? Send me an email!

THE LAST ANSWER: New York state lawmakers never successfully overridden a veto of Governor Mario Cuomo during his three terms in office.

Write to Jimmy Vielkind at Jimmy.Vielkind@wsj.com

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