NEW YORK, NY – When this past March 25th Governor Andrew Cuomo’s New York State Department of Health (NYSDH) issued an official order requiring nursing homes admit patients infected with the coronavirus, many of the 19.4 million citizens of New York State probably understood that the governor was a man unafraid to exercise the power of his high executive office in the name of public health.
However, as many of these same New Yorkers also soon later learned, that order proved to be a death sentence for the estimated 11,000- 12,000 nursing home patients and approximately 500 nursing home employees who died from the infection. Still, Cuomo blamed others for this tragedy.
The person Cuomo first blamed was President Trump. Referring to a March 13th guideline issued by Trump Administration’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which recommended that nursing homes accept patients coming from hospitals treating coronavirus patients, Cuomo at a later press conference stated, “New York followed the president’s agencies’ guidance. What New York did was follow what the Republican Administration said to do.”
Missing from Cuomo’s blame Trump thesis are four burdensome facts. The first is that Trump’s CDC made it clear that nursing homes were not required (contrary to Cuomo’s bizarre interpretation of their written guidelines) to admit coronavirus patients. Rather, the CDC recommended only that nursing homes not discriminate against those non-coronavirus patients who had been originally sent by hospitals who are caring for patients with that awful disease. It remains unclear why the governor was unable to understand this clear and important distinction.
The second fact Cuomo conveniently failed to mention was that on March 18th– exactly one week before he issued what proved to be his catastrophic order- the CDC disseminated a report warning that admitting patients diagnosed with the coronavirus into nursing homes, “has the potential to result in high attack rates among residents, staff members, and visitors.” A month and thousands of deaths later, The American Health Care Association described Cuomo’s plan as a “recipe for disaster.”
Thirdly, even as he continued his attacks on President Trump, Cuomo has still yet to explain his refusal to assist a large number of owners of nursing homes who after the March 25th order pleaded with him to provide their overpopulated and under-supplied facilities with masks, gowns and other crucial health care equipment. For the governor, the heads of these nursing homes, which while privately owned are regulated by the governor’s own New York State Health Department (NYSHD), were apparently asking too much of him, as might be inferred by his answer to their urgent requests: “[It’s] not my job.”
Receiving that message loud and clear was Donny Tuchman, the CEO of the Cobble Hill Health Center, which had lost 55 patients to the coronavirus. When Tuchman, who reportedly has the email correspondence to prove his allegation, in the third week of April asked Cuomo to send urgently needed medical staff and supplies to his center, his appeal was rebuffed. Tuchman’s follow-up appeal, requesting that non- coronavirus patients be transferred to the Javits Center and the Navy hospital ship the USNS Comfort to lessen the perilous overcrowding at his center was also refused by the governor and his NYSHD (led by Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker) sycophants- a refusal which leads to the 4th and more detailed case of Cuomo’s malfeasance.
Less than a month before Tuchman and many of his counterparts throughout the state had asked the governor to give them the approval for such a needed transfer, officials for both the Comfort and the Javits Center stated they were fully prepared to treat the expected large influx of patients. The governor should, it seems, have taken them at their word.
First berthed on March 30th at a pier along New York City’s Hudson River, the 70,000- ton Comfort had been set-up with sufficient beds, medical staff, equipment and supplies to treat 1,000 patients. However, thanks in large part to the governor’s inertia, the ship had treated a mere 182 patients, before finally departing from the city on April 30th.
That inertia also mirrored the governor’s underutilization of the Javits Center. The Center, which thanks to around-the-clock work performed coordinately by an eclectic group of state and federal agencies – was converted from an almost 2 million square -foot building used primarily to host conferences, shows and political and professional conventions to an alternate health care facility. As Cuomo could not have been unaware, the Javits Center, located between 34th- 40th Street on the West Side of Manhattan, possessed the necessary space, equipment and health care staff to treat the up to 2,500 non-coronavirus patients expected to be sent from dozens of precariously overcrowded facilities, such as the Cobble Hill Center.
Yet by May 1st, the day the Center’s hospital officially closed down, just a little more than 1,000 patients had been treated there, leaving 1500 beds unoccupied. Still, the governor never saw fit to explain to the grieving families and friends of the nursing home patients who died after being exposed to the virus why he was either unwilling or unable to initiate the transfer of 1500 of these vulnerable senior citizens to the safety of the Javits Center. However, there was to be some belated good news, as a change to the governor’s inexplicable March 25th order was soon to come.
Cuomo, at a May 10th news conference, announced his plan to reverse that mandate.“We’re just not going to send a person who is [tested] positive [to the coronavirus] to a nursing home. Period,” exclaimed the governor.
Were Cuomo a more introspective man, he might have used the news conference as an opportunity to at least assume some of the responsibility for the nursing home fiasco he helped foment. Instead, Cuomo shifted the blame to nursing home officials. “It was their obligation to inform,” said Cuomo, “and it is their obligation to call the [NYS] Department of Health and say, ‘You have come to get that person. I can’t care for them.’ That has always been the case.”’
However, Cuomo failed to offer even one example of the NYSDH sending their employees to “get that person,’’ even while the health department’s telephones had since early April reportedly been flooded with a wide range of requests from beleaguered nursing home heads – including requests for the removal of coronavirus infected patients.
This, though, was not the first time that Cuomo found a scapegoat other than his eternal foe President Trump to blame for the nursing home catastrophe. Almost two weeks before, at an April 28th press conference, the governor named three other alleged culprits: the national and international health community, the experts and the media. “Governors do not do global epidemics, but there’s a whole international, national health community that would do that. Where were all the experts,” lectured the governor who, then shifting his indignation to the media, rhetorically asked: “Where was the New York Times? Where was the Wall Street Journal? Where was [sic] all the bugle players who should say, ‘Be careful, there’s a virus in China that may be in the United States?’’’
The governor was soon provided an answer to his question about the media by Jorge Arangure, the New York Times Metro Editor. Challenging Cuomo’s critique on Twitter the following day, Arangure noted that between January 9th and March 1st, the Times had in fact published approximately 450 stories about the coronavirus.
Coming from an editor of a newspaper which had served as Cuomo’s unabashed echo chamber for more than 10 years, Arangure’s harsh rebuttal might have been what was to later lead Cuomo to find intangible scapegoats in place of mere mortals. Questioned by reporters at a May 17th news conference about his administration’s mishandling of the coronavirus crisis, Cuomo, referring to the 139 people who died from the virus the previous day, responded philosophically, “How do we get justice for those families of those 139 deaths? Who [sic] can we prosecute for those 139 deaths? Nobody. Mother Nature, God, where did this virus come from? People are going to die from this virus, that is the truth.”
Of the many, there was the anonymous protester who on Mother’s Day draped a huge banner stating, “Cuomo Killed My Mom,” on the top of an overpass on New York State’s I-86 highway.
There was Lorry Sullivan whose 89 year- old mother, Lorraine, died of the virus on her 89th birthday while residing at a nursing home facility in Long Island. Speaking to a New York television station about Cuomo’s responsibility for the death of his mother Sullivan stated, “When he passed that order [on March 25th], the facilities were blindsided. The facilities were understaffed.”
And there was Maria Porteus whose father, Carlos Gallegos, died in April of the coronavirus while a resident at a Long Island nursing home. Porteus, who belongs to a 250-member Facebook group composed of people whose loved ones also died of the virus while living in nursing homes, told another major news outlet, “The stories are all almost the same. And Cuomo’s still acting as if he’s not the one who did this order, like it’s somebody else or it’s the nursing homes’ fault.”
Cuomo’s “somebody else” to blame, as Maria Porteus probably already knows, includes President Trump, the national and international health community, the media, experts, nobody, mother nature and God himself.