Lawmakers question Health Commissioner about nursing home policies, data during budget hearing

NY Capitol News

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Thursday marks the first time since the summer that New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker appeared publicly before members of the legislature to provide testimony. While the event was scheduled as a budget hearing, a big focus remained on the Cuomo Administration’s handling of nursing home policies and data. 

Commissioner Zucker maintained Thursday that a March order requiring nursing homes to re-admit COVID-positive patients was not the main driver of the spread. 

“What we said in July remains true today. The virus, despite all of our collective best efforts to prevent it, was inadvertently brought into the nursing homes by dedicated staff at a time when we did not know enough about the science,” he said. 

Zucker was reiterating points from the Department of Health’s COVID-19 nursing home report over the summer.

In August, lawmakers requested the number of nursing home residents who died from COVID-19 in hospitals. That information was not released until recently after the Attorney General’s report that the state “undercounted” nursing home resident deaths by as much as 50 percent. Following that news, a New York Post report revealed the Secretary to the Governor admitted during a meeting with some Democrat lawmakers that the administration “froze” over fears of a federal probe. 

Lawmakers again asked if the March order was a potential for disease spread. 

“I don’t understand the being so adamant that this is not a contributing factor,” said Republican Assemblymember Jacob Ashby.

“How do you explain to me that without anyone coming back to the nursing homes that are positives from COVID, even though we could talk about the science aside, no one coming in as visitors, we still have cases in the nursing homes not just here in New York… but across the nation and around the globe,” Zucker said. 

Democrats also expressed frustration at the Commissioner.

“It is very clear that this administration, whether it’s you sir or anybody else, the Governor or anybody speaking on his behalf will apparently never acknowledge that you have done anything wrong,” Senator Gustavo Rivera said. 

There’s currently a Department of Justice investigation into the Cuomo Administration’s nursing home scandal. 

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