By Andrew Kerr
Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo personally edited a July 2020 Department of Health report that undercounted nursing home COVID deaths by thousands, the New York State Assembly said in a report Monday.
Cuomo ordered the Department of Health (DOH) to produce the report to combat criticism of his March 25 directive ordering New York nursing homes to accept COVID-positive patients, the State Assembly Judiciary Committee said in its report summarizing findings from its eight-month impeachment investigation of the former Democratic governor. Officials knew as they drafted the report that approximately 10,000 nursing home residents had died from the virus at the time, but the final version of the report only disclosed approximately 6,500 deaths, a figure that reflected only the residents who were physically present at a nursing home at the time of their death, the report said.
“Throughout the drafting process, the former Governor reviewed and edited the draft DOH Report on multiple occasions, and made edits to strengthen the defense of the March 25 Directive,” the report stated.
“The evidence obtained in our investigation indicates that the former Governor and his senior staff were not fully transparent with the public regarding the number of COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents,” the report added. “The Committee is cooperating with law enforcement with respect to these issues.”
Despite undercounting the nursing home death toll by thousands, the July 2020 DOH report concluded that Cuomo’s March 25 directive did not lead to a higher death toll. The State Assembly said in its report Monday that its investigation did not uncover any documents that undermined that conclusion.
Health officials expressed concern that the governor’s COVID-19 response team was stacked with non-medical officials and did not made decisions based exclusively on scientific or medical advice, the report said. In addition, a senior DOH official said they could not speak freely to Cuomo and his senior staff as they routinely rejected DOH advice related to the pandemic.
“The senior DOH official felt that speaking up could result in an even more limited ability to provide advice going forward,” the report stated.
The State Assembly also discovered that Cuomo was first pitched the idea of writing a book about his response to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 19, 2020, less than three weeks after New York’s first confirmed case.
On July 10, just four days after the DOH released its report absolving Cuomo from causing an inflated nursing home death toll, the former governor secured a guaranteed compensation package of $5.2 million in royalty advances for his book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” the State Assembly report stated.
The report found that junior staffers in Cuomo’s Executive Chamber were required to perform tasks related to the book during their regular course of work
One senior state official complained to a colleague that the work they were required to do for the book “was compromising the official’s ability to work on COVID-related matters,” the report stated.