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Cuomo aides rewrote report by state health officials to hide true COVID death toll in nursing homes

Andrew Cuomo’s aides asked the state health department to change its definition of COVID nursing home deaths, it has been claimed, in a bid to reduce the total and lessen the criticism of the embattled New York governor.

On Thursday night The Wall Street Journal reported that Cuomo’s team sought the changes in July.

The bombshell report comes hours after one of three women accusing Cuomo of sexual assault spoke out on television for the first time, adding to his horrendous week.

On Friday the state assembly will vote on whether to revoke Cuomo’s emergency powers, two months early. The additional authority was approved in the early days of the pandemic last year, and designed to give Cuomo sweeping powers to rapidly change laws, in the midst of the public health emergency. Calls have been growing for some time for the powers to be removed.

On Thursday, sources told the paper claimed that Cuomo’s aides’ efforts significantly reduced the tally of nursing home COVID deaths.

Cuomo, pictured with his aide Melissa DeRosa, is accused of undercounting the death toll

At least 15,000 nursing home residents are now known to have died of COVID-19 in New York

At least 15,000 nursing home residents are now known to have died of COVID-19 in New York

Cuomo’s pandemic: A timeline of the governor’s response to the COVID-19 crisis

MARCH 1: Female nurse, 39, returning from Iran becomes the first in New York to test positive for COVID-19.

MARCH 2: Cuomo gives the first of 111 consecutive daily televised briefings for New Yorkers

MARCH 13: Donald Trump declares national emergency.

MARCH 14: An 82-year-old woman with emphysema is announced as the first patient to die from the virus.

MARCH 17: New York City mayor Bill de Blasio says city should follow San Francisco with a shelter-in-place order; Cuomo says it will be statewide.

MARCH 19: California Governor Gavin Newsom issues first statewide lockdown order

MARCH 22: Cuomo signs statewide stay-at-home order.

MARCH 25: Cuomo orders that nursing homes accept convalescent COVID patients back into their facilities.

MAY 10: The nursing home ruling is reversed, to insist on a negative COVID test before return to a nursing home. By now, more than 9,000 people have returned to nursing homes.

AUGUST: Questions begin to be asked about the nursing home policy.

AUGUST 26: Department of Justice opens an investigation into New York’s nursing homes and COVID policy. 

OCTOBER 13: Cuomo publishes American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.

OCTOBER 21: Cuomo announced a policy of isolating identified ‘micro clusters’ of COVID cases.

NOVEMBER 20: Cuomo wins an Emmy ‘in recognition of his leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic and his masterful use of television to inform and calm people around the world’.

JANUARY 28: Attorney General Letitia James released a report finding that New York under-reported the number of deaths among nursing home patients by around 50 per cent, with 13,000 actually dying – not the 8,500 reported.

FEBRUARY 11: Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s secretary, admits that in August they ‘froze’ when asked for nursing home data, and dragged their heels on releasing it. The AP reports that more than 9,000 people were returned to nursing homes to recover from COVID in the period March 25-May 10, a figure 40 per cent higher than the official tally. 

Cuomo was at the time facing questions over his March 25 order that nursing homes readmit convalescent COVID residents, to free up hospital beds.

Cuomo reversed his order on  May 10 and insisted on a negative COVID test before return to a nursing home – but by that point, more than 9,000 people had returned to nursing homes.

He insists that he was following federal guidelines. His health department say that the vast number of COVID outbreaks in nursing homes were traced back to members of staff, rather than returning residents. 

Critics say that Cuomo’s rule caused a large number of unnecessary deaths. 

In July, his aides asked that the data focused only on residents who died inside long-term-care facilities, leaving out those who had died in hospitals after becoming sick in nursing homes. 

As a result, the report said 6,432 nursing-home residents had died – a significant undercount of the actual death toll. 

The initial version of the report said nearly 10,000 nursing-home residents had died in New York by July last year, one of the people told the Journal. 

The New York Times reported on Thursday that the report written by state health officials showed over 9,000 deaths from COVID-19 among nursing home residents by June and Cuomo’s most senior aides did not want to make that number public.

They rewrote the report to take that figure out, according to interviews and documents reviewed by the Times

Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, agreed that the data showing deaths among residents, who died outside of their nursing homes, should not be included in the July report, the Journal said. 

The July intervention came just as Cuomo was starting to write a book on his pandemic achievements, entitled American Leadership.

It is the earliest-known attempt to massage the official death toll data. 

A spokesman for the department, Gary Holmes, told The Journal: ‘[The Department of Health] was comfortable with the final report and believes fully in its conclusion that the primary driver that introduced Covid into the nursing homes was brought in by staff.’

Beth Garvey, a special counsel and senior adviser to Cuomo, told The Journal in a statement that the data was excluded from the July report because they were not sure it was accurate.

‘The out-of-facility data was omitted after DOH could not confirm it had been adequately verified,’ she said. 

State officials now say more than 15,000 residents of nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic broke out a year ago – counting both those who died in long-term-care facilities and those who died later in hospitals. 

That figure is about 50 per cent higher than earlier official death tolls.

Following the July report, the Health Department resisted calls by state and federal lawmakers, media outlets and others to release the data for another eight months. 

The true toll only became apparent in January when Letitia James, the state attorney general, begun an inquiry. 

Cuomo has denied a coverup.

Cuomo and DeRosa are pictured having dinner in 2016, weeks after her wedding to another former aide to the governor, with an onlooker claiming Cuomo had his hand on her leg

Cuomo and DeRosa are pictured having dinner in 2016, weeks after her wedding to another former aide to the governor, with an onlooker claiming Cuomo had his hand on her leg

Cuomo released a book about his handling of the pandemic and he also won an Emmy for his daily TV briefings

Cuomo released a book about his handling of the pandemic and he also won an Emmy for his daily TV briefings

He clumsily attempted to explain that the total death count was always accurate, even if the deaths were recorded as hospital deaths rather than nursing home deaths. ‘Who cares where they died,’ he said – comments that enraged families of victims.

In February federal prosecutors began investigating a possible coverup of COVID deaths among nursing home residents.

On February 11 the health department updated their report to include out-of-facility deaths of nursing-home residents, saying its conclusions remained unchanged by the new data. 

Mike Lawler, a Republican assemblyman representing Rockland County, was among those calling on Thursday night for Cuomo to resign.

‘It’s very clear the Cuomo admin understood their March 25th order had contributed to the death toll & they wanted to cover it up to avoid political fallout, plain and simple,’ he tweeted. 

‘They had the data & they hid it. This was a coordinated criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice.’

Ron Kim, a Democrat politician who claimed that Cuomo rang him and threatened to ‘destroy’ him if he did not vociferously support him, called for the governor to be impeached.

Kim, a progressive representing Queens who has been among the most vocal critics of Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic, believes his own uncle died from a presumed case of COVID in a nursing home last year.

‘15,000 nursing home residents died,’ he tweeted.

‘15,000 of our loved ones died. And Cuomo hid the numbers. Impeach.’ 

 Bill Hammond, Senior Fellow for Health Policy at The Empire Center, who tried and failed to obtain the data over the summer, tweeted: ‘This whole thing played out in plain sight. 

‘Anyone paying close attention knew the Cuomo administration was low-balling its nursing home death count, knew the July report was a travesty, knew Cuomo was B.S.-ing about NY’s death toll being 46th, knew he was violating FOIL.’

 

‘He felt like he was untouchable’ Cuomo sex-pest accuser says NY Gov. ‘terrified’ her and ‘propositioned her’ during office meeting: Asked if she was ‘able to enjoy being intimate’ as a victim of rape

Andrew Cuomo ‘propositioned’ a 25-year-old advisor in his office, after quizzing her on her sex life and asking whether she had sex with older men, she has claimed. 

Charlotte Bennett, 25, spoke out on Thursday night in her first televised interview.

One of three women to accuse Cuomo of sexual harassment, she said the powerful three-term governor, who was giving daily televised briefings in the midst of the pandemic and was receiving a rapturous reception, ‘felt like he was untouchable in a lot of ways’ when he ‘propositioned’ her. 

He asked probing questions such as whether, as a survivor of rape, she was ‘able to enjoy being intimate’ with men. 

Bennett worked as a health policy adviser in the New York governor’s administration, hired in the spring of 2019 and swiftly promoted to senior briefer and executive assistant only a few months later. 

Bennett had a friendly relationship with Cuomo due to their mutual ties to Westchester County, and saw him as a mentor.

Charlotte Bennett, 25, spoke to CBS's Norah O'Donnell on Thursday evening

Charlotte Bennett, 25, spoke to CBS’s Norah O’Donnell on Thursday evening

She claimed that, in the spring of 2020, when she moved to Albany, he began quizzing her on her sex life and whether she dated older men. 

She told Norah O’Donnell that the first awkward conversation was on May 15. 

She revealed that she had been raped, and Cuomo seemed fascinated by her story.

Charlotte Bennett spoke out on Thursday

Charlotte Bennett spoke out on Thursday

On June 5, she was asked to take a dictation and at the end he asked her to turn off the tape. 

‘He asked if I had trouble enjoying being with someone, because of my drama,’ she said.

‘The governor asked if I was sensitive to intimacy.’ 

Bennett claimed Cuomo, 63, told her he would consider dating ‘anyone above the age of 22’. 

She felt it was clear the he was propositioning her.  

‘I thought he’s trying to sleep with me. 

‘The governor’s trying to sleep with me. And I’m deeply uncomfortable and I have to get out of this room as soon as possible.’

Bennett opened up about the allegations against Cuomo in her first TV interview on Thursday

Bennett opened up about the allegations against Cuomo in her first TV interview on Thursday

Asked by O’Donnell why she thought that, Bennett replied: ‘Without explicitly saying it, he implied to me that I was old enough for him and he was lonely.’ 

Bennett texted her friend, detailing the encounter.

She told her friend: ‘It was like the most explicit it could be.’ 

Asked by O’Donnell how she responded to Cuomo’s deeply personal questions, in his office during a working day, she replied: ‘I responded honestly.’

Bennett is one of three women who have now accused the governor of sexual harassment

Bennett is one of three women who have now accused the governor of sexual harassment

The pair initially had a good relationship, with shared connections to Westchester County

The pair initially had a good relationship, with shared connections to Westchester County

Bennett and Cuomo's relationship took a turn in May when he began asking intimate questions

Bennett and Cuomo’s relationship took a turn in May when he began asking intimate questions

Bennett, becoming emotional, said that, on reflection, her answering his questions left the most pain.

‘And when I was thinking of coming forward, that’s where I held the most shame,’ she said. ‘That was where I was most uncomfortable.

‘I think people put the onus on women to shut the conversation down, yet by answering, I was somehow engaging in that, or enabling it, when in fact, I was just terrified.’

Asked why she didn’t walk away, she replied: ‘It didn’t feel like I had a choice. He was my boss. He was everyone’s boss.’

O’Donnell asked whether she could have misunderstood Cuomo, Bennett said: ‘I understood him loud and clear. It just didn’t go the way he had planned.’

When Bennett first made her allegations, in The New York Times, she told a similar story.

‘I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,’ Bennett told the paper. 

‘And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.’ 

Bennett said Cuomo also told her he wanted a girlfriend, ‘preferably in the Albany area,’ and he was lonely since breaking up with Sandra Lee, a chef and TV personality. 

She also said she tried to change the subject when Cuomo’s comments were making her uncomfortable, telling him she was thinking of getting a tattoo. 

Bennett said Cuomo responded by suggesting she put the tattoo on her buttocks. 

Bennett, pictured at work, told Cuomo's team about her incidents with him

Bennett, pictured at work, told Cuomo’s team about her incidents with him

Protesters staged an 'I Believe Women' rally outside Cuomo's Manhattan office on Thursday

Protesters staged an ‘I Believe Women’ rally outside Cuomo’s Manhattan office on Thursday

A protester in a Donald Trump mask lies on the sidewalk outside Cuomo's office on Thursday

A protester in a Donald Trump mask lies on the sidewalk outside Cuomo’s office on Thursday

Bennett said she informed Cuomo’s chief of staff, Jill DesRosiers, about the interaction less than a week later. She said she was transferred to another job on the opposite side of the Capitol. At the end of June she also gave a statement to a special counsel for Cuomo.  

Cuomo’s special counsel, Beth Garvey, has acknowledged that the complaint had been made and that Bennett was transferred as a result to a position in which she had already been interested.

Garvey said in a statement that Bennett’s allegations ‘did not include a claim of physical contact or inappropriate sexual conduct’ and Bennett ‘was consulted regarding the resolution, and expressed satisfaction and appreciation for the way in which it was handled.’ 

‘The determination reached based on the information Ms Bennett provided was that no further action was required which was consistent with Ms Bennett’s wishes,’ Garvey said. 

Bennett said she decided not to push for any further action by the administration. She said she liked her new job and ‘wanted to move on.’

Bennett spoke out several days after Lindsey Boylan, now 36, accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. A third woman, Anna Ruch, 33, came forward on Monday. 

Anna Ruch (above) alleges that Cuomo put his hands on her face and asked if he could kiss her just moments after they met at a September 2019 wedding in Manhattan

Lindsey Boylan, 36, claims Cuomo commented on her appearance inappropriately, kissed her without her consent and went out of his way to touch her on her lower back, arms and legs

Anna Ruch, 33, (left) claimed Cuomo behaved inappropriately at a Manhattan wedding in September 2019.  Lindsey Boylan, 36, (right) claims Cuomo commented on her appearance inappropriately, kissed her without her consent and went out of his way to touch her on her lower back, arms and legs

Boylan opened about her sexual harassment claims against Cuomo in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar published on Thursday. 

Who is Lindsey Boylan? 

Lindsey Boylan, 36, was deputy secretary for economic development and housing in the Cuomo administration from 2015-18.

She is now running for Manhattan borough president.

Boylan on February 24 became the first woman to accuse Cuomo of sexual harassment: two others have since done so.

She said that, from January 2016, Cuomo ‘would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs.’ 

She claims that Cuomo suggested playing strip poker while they traveled on a private jet in October 2017.

Boylan also alleged that Cuomo kissed her on the lips in 2018 as she was walking out of a briefing.

Cuomo has denied all of her allegations. 

She revealed she came forward after the Democratic governor’s name started being floated as a potential nominee for a cabinet position in Biden’s administration. 

‘I woke up the next day, and the governor was being floated for attorney general, the highest law enforcement position in the U.S.,’ Boylan said. ‘And I didn’t think about it at all… I began tweeting about my experience.’ 

‘After I initially came forward, it felt like I had intentionally blown up my own body into pieces all over the world, and people were looking at them. It almost felt like I had done this to myself. I had made that choice.’   

Boylan claims Cuomo commented on her appearance inappropriately, kissed her without her consent and went out of his way to touch her on her lower back, arms and legs. 

She also alleges that he once suggested a game of strip poker aboard his state-owned jet. 

Meanwhile, a third woman – Anna Ruch – told The New York Times that Cuomo put his hands on her face and asked if he could kiss her just moments after they met at a September 2019 wedding in Manhattan. 

Boylan said in her magazine interview that she has been in touch with Bennett but not Ruch, adding that Ruch’s story made her feel ‘nauseous’.   

Cuomo on Wednesday rejected calls for his resignation in the face of harassment allegations

Cuomo on Wednesday rejected calls for his resignation in the face of harassment allegations

Anna Ruch told The New York Times that Cuomo put his hands on her face and asked if he could kiss her just moments after they met at a September 2019 wedding in Manhattan

Anna Ruch told The New York Times that Cuomo put his hands on her face and asked if he could kiss her just moments after they met at a September 2019 wedding in Manhattan

Boylan, who worked for Cuomo’s team from March 2015 to October 2018, first tweeted about an abusive workplace environment in the administration in December. 

She elaborated on her accusations in a February 24 Medium post in which she said Cuomo once suggested a game of strip poker and on another occasion kissed her without her consent. 

Ex and current Cuomo staffers say they’re ‘waking up to the fact they were in a cult’

Nearly a dozen former and current staffers have detailed to Gothamist/WNYC the working culture inside Gov Cuomo’s office after he was accused of sexual harassment.

Some of the staffers say they weren’t surprised by the allegations given what they claim is a bullying environment and intense work culture inside Cuomo’s office.

Former staffers have described working there as having ‘Stockholm syndrome’, while others said they’re ‘kind of waking up to the fact that we were in a cult’.

Some said Cuomo was a ‘micromanager to the 100th degree’ and had a tough management style.

One staffer who had a fellowship when she was in her 20s in 2013 described how she was quickly set up near Cuomo’s office, with staffers later telling her the governor liked blondes.

She was also told to wear stilettos when in the Albany office.

Some staffers, however, refuted the toxic workplace notions.

‘I think everyone there wants to do the best work they can. Sometimes that work-life balance is sacrificed. I was definitely burned out by the end of my time there. I didn’t take it personally,’ the staffer said.

Cuomo has previously denied Boylan’s allegations. 

‘I just want the abuse to stop. I’m really not focused on punishment. I’m focused on accountability. And I think we’re seeing somewhat the way the governor (and his administration) operates, the way that they are, and it’s being seen in real time. And I think that’s really unfortunate, but probably necessary,’ Boylan said.  

Cuomo on Wednesday rejected calls for his resignation in the face of the harassment allegations.

He apologized and said that he had ‘learned an important lesson’ about his behavior around women. 

Cuomo initially said he was apologizing to ‘people’ who were uncomfortable with his conduct. At one point, he said he was apologizing to ‘the young woman who worked here who said that I made her feel uncomfortable in the workplace’. 

‘I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable,’ Cuomo said. ‘It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it.

‘I’m embarrassed by what happened… I’m embarrassed that someone felt that way in my administration. I’m embarrassed and hurt and I apologize that somebody who interacted with me felt that way.’ 

Asked about calls for him to step aside, the third-term governor said: ‘I wasn’t elected by politicians, I was elected by the people of the state of New York. I´m not going to resign.’

Cuomo acknowledged ‘sensitivities have changed and behavior has changed’ and that what he considers his ‘customary greeting’ – an old-world approach that often involves kisses and hugs – is not acceptable.

Cuomo said he inherited his gregarious way of greeting people from his father, the late former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and that he intended to be welcoming and make people feel comfortable. 

He said he will ‘fully cooperate’ with an investigation into the allegations overseen by the state’s independently elected attorney general. Attorney General Letitia James, also a Democrat, is selecting an outside law firm to conduct the probe and document its findings in a public report. 

Bennett’s lawyer, Debra Katz, said the governor’s news conference ‘was full of falsehoods and inaccurate information.’

She said Cuomo’s claim that he was unaware he had made women uncomfortable was disingenuous, considering that Bennett had reported his behavior to her boss and one of Cuomo’s lawyers.

‘We are confident that they made him aware of her complaint and we fully expect that the Attorney General’s investigation will demonstrate that Cuomo administration officials failed to act on Ms Bennett’s serious allegations or to ensure that corrective measures were taken, in violation of their legal requirements,’ Katz said.

The harassment allegations represent a deepening crisis for Cuomo, who just months ago was at the height of his popularity for his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In recent weeks, he has been assailed over revelations that his administration had underreported COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. 



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