Friday, February 26, 2021

NY Senate Democrats block subpoena for COVID-19 nursing home death data

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Democrats who control the state Senate blocked a motion Monday to subpoena records of the Cuomo administration seeking a fuller accounting of nursing home residents who died from the coronavirus.

The motion was made by Sen. Thomas O’Mara, the ranking Republican on the Investigations Committee panel during a virtual meeting

The GOP motion to compel the state Health Department to release records came just days after Attorney General Letitia James issued a blistering report that found Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his health agency withheld an accurate count of the number of nursing home residents who died from COVID-19 by some 50 percent by excluding residents who died after being take to hospitals.

Hours after the damning report was issued, state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, who had been accused of stonewalling, gave a more detailed accounting, saying 12,743 nursing home residents had died from COVID-19 as of January 19. That figure was about 4,000 more nursing home resident deaths than previously reported — confirming the attorney general’s finding.

But O’Mara claimed there’s more information to be had “to make sure we get to the bottom” of the COVID-19 nursing home tally.

“We talked about [issuing a subpoena] on and off throughout the past year,” O’Mara (R-Elmira) said.

O’Mara’s motion was seconded by GOP Sen. Anthony Palumbo, a former Suffolk County prosecutor.

“We do think there are a lot of irregularities,” Palumbo said. “The cover-up is usually worse than the crime.”

Last week, Sen. James Skoufis (D-Rockland), the top Democrat and chairman of the Investigations Committee, threatened to subpoena the DOH to release the total number of nursing home residents who died of COVID-19, because he was tired of their months-long stonewalling. He called the delay tactics “downright insulting” to an co-equal branch of government.

But Skoufis issued the threat before James issued her report. 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.

Skoufis then slammed O’Mara for what he called an “ambush” because he did not give him notice beforehand of the motion.

The chief lawyer for the investigations panel then claimed the motion was procedurally out out of order because it had not been submitted in writing.

“This is a political motion. This committee is not going to be bullied into doing something after we laid out a road map to getting information,” Skoufis said.

“I will recommend a `no vote’ on your motion,” Skoufis said.

O’Mara responded that it was a “dereliction of duty” for the Senate to let the Cuomo’s health team off the hook, adding, “I, for one, do not believe we’re getting the full picture from Attorney General James’ report.”

Other Democrat members of the investigations committee include James Gaughran and former federal prosecutor Todd Kamsinsky, both representing Nassau County, and Elijan Reichlin Melnick of Rockland County.

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