NEW YORK (NEWS10/WSYR-TV) — An article by the New York Times Thursday claims that aides for Governor Andrew Cuomo altered a report on nursing home data to show fewer deaths than there actually were.

The paper claims that top aides, including Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa; Linda Lacewell, the head of the state’s financial services; and current SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras all worked to rewrite a report by state health officials to hide how many nursing home residents died in the coronavirus pandemic. None of those people have public health experience.

The Times says that the state’s data had the death toll nearly 50% higher than what was being publicly cited by the Cuomo administration.  The paper cited interviews and documents that they reviewed.

The Cuomo Administration has been facing increasing pressure for transparency on its handling of nursing homes during the pandemic. Much of the criticism surrounds a March 25 directive that sent recovering coronavirus patients back to nursing homes. Some have questioned if that order may have significantly increased the number of deaths. The New York State Department of Health (DOH) maintains that it did not.

As the voices of the Governor’s critics grew louder, a January report by the New York Attorney General’s Office found the DOH may have undercounted the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%. The DOH followed up by sending a report that outlined the number of nursing home deaths to the state legislature months after the data was requested.

Calls for an investigation into nursing homes only intensified after a report published by the New York Post claimed DeRosa said the administration “froze” out of fear that the true numbers would be “used against them” by federal prosecutors from then-Pres. Donald Trump’s Department of Justice.

Critics also suggested that by stalling the release of the true number of deaths, the Governor’s staff may be open to criminal liability. A federal investigation is now underway.

The Times reports that the “back-and-forth” of the edited report “went well beyond the usual process of the governor’s office suggesting edits to an agency report, and became ‘intense’ at times, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.” Even then, the paper said the higher death toll was not removed; DeRosa and Lacewell allegedly removed it later.

Cuomo’s office sent statements in response to the article:

“This report, which establishes that the March 25 advisory was not a driver of nursing home deaths, was a collaborative process between DOH and the COVID task force. The report’s purpose was to ensure the public had a clear non-political evaluation for how COVID entered nursing homes at the height of the pandemic. All data sets reviewed came to a common conclusion – that spread from staff was likely the primary driver that introduced COVID into these nursing homes. While early versions of the report included out of facility deaths, the COVID task force was not satisfied that the data had been verified against hospital data and so the final report used only data for in facility deaths, which was disclosed in the report. While the out of facility deaths were held aside for verification, the conclusions were supported by both data sets. DOH was comfortable with the final report and believes fully in its conclusion that the primary driver that introduced COVID into the nursing homes was spread brought in by staff. Even Bill Hammond of the conservative think tank Empire Center found that the March 25 advisory was not a primary driver of COVID in nursing homes. The decision was made to initially release the report without the out of facility data and to later update the report to include the out of facility deaths. This was done in February and as Dr Zucker had testified to the legislature, the conclusions remained the same as in July.”

Department of Health Spokesman Gary Holmes

“The out of facility data was omitted after DOH could not confirm it had been adequately verified – this did not change the conclusion of the report, which was and is that the March 25 order was ‘not a driver of nursing home infections or fatalities’.

“COVID Task Force officials did not request that the report conclude the March 25 order played no role; in fact Task Force Members, knowing the report needed to withstand rigorous public scrutiny were very cautious to not overstate the statistical analysis presented in the report. Overall, ensuring public confidence in the conclusion was the ultimate goal of DOH and the COVID Task Force in issuing the report.”

Beth Garvey, Special Counsel and Senior Advisor to the Governor

This is just one of two scandals currently plaguing the Cuomo administration. The Governor is also facing accusations of sexual harassment from two former aides as well as alleged “unwanted advances” by a third woman at a 2019 wedding reception.

Meanwhile, a growing number of bipartisan lawmakers in the New York Legislature are calling for the Governor to either resign or be impeached. Cuomo apologized for his actions, but he said he will not resign.

Legislation that would remove the emergency powers granted to him at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 is expected to pass through the legislature on Friday.