Official grilled on nursing home deaths

Courtesy of the state Department of HealthState Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker delivers a briefing in Manhattan on July 6 on the department’s report following an investigation into controversy surrounding the state’s COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes and adult-care facilities.

Back in March, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo went before the cameras (and the public) early in the coronavirus crisis, he was asked who would be at fault if the state’s economy tanked when the outbreak was over.

The governor’s answer: “If you want to blame somebody, blame me.”

That statement didn’t really sound like famous last words at the time, but in the wake of a state Health Department report Monday blaming staff and visitors for bringing COVID-19 into New York nursing homes, some reassessment is in order.

Monday’s report came amid mounting calls by state and federal lawmakers for an independent investigation of COVID-19 deaths in New York nursing homes. We agree with those calls.

The statistics bear out the thinking that some type of probe is necessary. Thousands of COVID-19 deaths inside New York nursing homes stemmed from infected workers and visitors introducing the coronavirus into the vulnerable facilities, according to the report.

To date, at least 6,281 people have died inside New York nursing homes in connection with COVID-19, or about 25% of the state’s nearly 25,000 total deaths.

Of the 72 GLOW Region deaths attributed to COVID-19, 62 of the deaths have been among nursing home residents, according to data from the Genesee-Orleans, Livingston and Wyoming County departments of health.

More than 101,000 residents live in one of 613 nursing home or adult care facilities in the state.

Our gripe is that the governor did not stand in front of the report when it was released Monday. Instead, he sent out state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to take any heat that flared the governor’s way.

Disappointingly, Zucker’s statements were redolent of the cliches we’ve heard from the Trump administration for four months: A narrative not based in facts. A false narrative. The data does not support that.

An independent investigation would help us understand what happened behind those nursing-home walls, why it happened and, most important, who, if anyone, should be held accountable.

Gov. Cuomo has been on the money with his economic strategies, reliance on science and trust in medical expertise for most of the outbreak, and it has paid off for all New Yorkers. He’s done his job well compared to governors of other states. But his handling of the COVID nursing-home crisis rightly should be questioned.

President Harry S. Truman once famously declared, “The buck stops here.” That buck, with its diverse millions of lives, also stops at Gov. Cuomo’s desk.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1