For months, we listened to Gov. Andrew Cuomo laud the importance of fact-based decision making and proclaim the values of objectivity and science. But “do as I say, not as I do” has always been a hallmark of this governor’s administration, so it should not be too surprising he willfully disregarded the above in lieu of his own politically-convenient narrative of the past year.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Attorney’s Office are now investigating the state’s handling of nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. And there is no shortage of irony of a man spending every afternoon for the better part of a year telling people to follow the “facts” and the “data” as they grappled with the spread of the virus only to then hide the same facts and data despite countless requests.
As federal authorities pursue their investigations, the Legislature has a responsibility to act decisively as well. This week, I joined colleagues in the Assembly Minority Conference to call for a bipartisan Impeachment Commission in order to gather facts, information and uncover answers with an eye toward accountability. There are many things we still do not know about the state’s response to COVID-19 and its impact on nursing homes; in fact, we may not even know all the things we do not know, as this administration’s constant refusal to be transparent is so strong that it is hard to make heads or tails of anything it has said in these past few months. What is “fact,” and what is “fiction?” What are we supposed to believe?
We now know the governor hid the true number of deaths in state nursing homes and long-term care facilities by 50 percent; the total number of nursing home residents who died is more than 15,000. We also know information was censored as the governor’s team “froze” while coming up with a game plan to avoid federal investigation. And, we also know many of the things the governor has said since the state attorney general investigated these misrepresentations have made little sense.
A review of the timeline of the events leading to that investigation is nothing short of alarming. In August, the New York State Department of Health (DOH) said it needed until November to answer a Freedom of Information Law request from the Empire Center aimed at uncovering the true nature of what was going on in state-run facilities. Then, in November, the DOH said it needed until January to look for exemptions to the law. Shortly after that, Gov. Cuomo was awarded an Emmy for his “masterful” COVID-19 television briefings. The request had still not been filled.
At the same time, the continued underreporting of statistics related to those deaths also drastically impacted the state’s nursing home mortality rate, which the governor had previously claimed was among the best in the nation. Using Attorney General Letitia James’ numbers, New York was actually one of the worst. Somewhere along the way, Cuomo wrote a book about leadership and how well he was doing.
“Nature abhors a vacuum – so does the political system,” the governor said in a recent Q&A, where he claimed the “void” his administration created by not releasing these numbers sooner was filled with “skepticism, and cynicism, and conspiracy theories which furthered the confusion.” Perhaps, that is due to the fact that this administration has cultivated an atmosphere of “skepticism, cynicism and conspiracy.” I have a suggestion: instead of creating vacuums and voids in the first place, answer the people when they demand honesty, clarity and accuracy. That is what they deserve and that is what you are tasked with doing as a public servant.
The perils of the COVID-19 outbreak are too numerous to count; it is a public health crisis, an economic crisis: it has wreaked havoc on our education, quality of life and work routines. The only way to confront these challenges is head on, with a concerted effort from government and health officials and competent leadership from those in positions of authority. At some point, integrity and credibility got lost along the way.
As a legislative leader, I will continue to press this administration for every available piece of information related to the state’s pandemic response—nothing like this can ever happen again.
Contact Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay at his district office, 200 N. 2nd St., Fulton, New York, 13069, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook and Twitter at @WillABarclay.