Gov. Andrew Cuomo is now facing widespread dissension from within his own party over the widening nursing home scandal. Democratic leaders from the State Senate, it has been reported, are prepared to strip him of the vast emergency powers granted him during the outset of the pandemic.
Those emergency powers, granted in a law enacted March 3, 2020, gave the governor the authority to order businesses and schools closed as the pandemic worsened, and to temporarily suspend any law, regulation rule or local law that would impede the compliance of or prevent the necessary action to conduct pandemic response, including public officers meeting law that mandates that members of the public be permitted to attend public meetings in person. Yet another emergency power grants him the authority to order that masks be worn in public.
It was understood by the legislators that some executive orders would have to be made quickly and during times when the legislature was not in session and there would not be enough time to wait for their return to Albany.
While most of those emergency orders have earned the governor national recognition and praise for leadership, there is one decision that will long haunt him. A March 25 memo instructed nursing homes not to refuse the admission of Coronavirus-positive patients being discharged from hospitals. The policy, inspired by concern about overcrowding of hospitals, was effectively rescinded on May 10.
The decision to admit COVID positive patients back into nursing homes has long been acknowledged to be a grave mistake - one that was far worse than originally imagined. A recent Empire Center study reports that in the upstate region, facilities that admitted at least one positive patient during this period accounted for 82 percent of Coronavirus deaths among nursing home residents, even though they had only 32 percent of the residents.
Statewide, the findings imply that the total of 6,327 COVID-positive admissions between late March and early May were associated with several hundred, and possibly more than 1,000, additional resident deaths.
Also alarming is a report by State Attorney General Letitia James that concluded that New York may have undercounted the number of nursing home and long-term care facility residents who have died during the pandemic and an admission by a top aide to the governor that stated government intentionally delayed releasing more accurate numbers to the federal government. That information has prompted investigations by the FBI and the Southern District of the State of New York, not to mention calls for impeachment of the governor by Republicans in the senate and assembly.
These investigations can and should be allowed to run their course. And the legislature must be prepared for what would happen, if the governor’s powers are rescinded, or simply allowed to expire at the end of April. That means taking a more active role in the pandemic at a time when every state is struggling with delays in getting the vaccines administered and dealing with issues pertaining to the state’s budget, which is due at the end of March.