Dear Legislator Kim:
Your piece in The Guardian speaks to the lobbyists who donated vast sums of money to Governor Cuomo’s campaign, thereby explaining why a toxic immunity provision “The Granny Killer Immunity” cleverly wound up a part New York’s budget. But your piece fails to mention the nursing home owners, operators and managers, not only those who run the facilities but those who own the property and the buildings, the magnates, who also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not collectively millions, to the campaigns of both Governor Cuomo and Attorney General Tish James. While she has promised to investigate, don’t hold your breath. And her pre-emptive strike of a promise to investigate means violating the relationship with her donor pool and voting bloc. In our opinion, it likely “ain’t gonna happen.”
Those of us who have been following these stories for years, even absent Covid-19, know the numbers, we know the finances, we know the attorneys representing the homes and the individuals, sometimes at odds, and we know about their donations to politicians, to lobbyists, to political parties, to anyone who could help increase profits and minimize attention. Some of those same attorneys are also instrumental in getting Democrats elected statewide. It is not just the lobbyists who wanted the benefit of the Granny Killer Immunity protections, it’s also everyone in the food chain who makes money from the industry. And the net profit is almost unquantifiable.
Legislator Kim, in addition to everything else, with immunity came an additional source of profit – the sale of inventory. Many nursing homes at the very start of the pandemic had a stockpile of PPE, just as they should have. They obtained that equipment from Medicare, Medicaid, Insurance, private pay, accumulated over years, all a cost of doing business. All things considered that stockpile should be a requirement of the industry. But, many did not use that equipment in their own nursing homes and rehabilitation centers to protect their patients and staff, instead they raped their own facilities of that protective gear and sold it on gray markets.
Let me restate: when it seemed there was going to be a shortage, and potentially a salable need for Personal Protective Equipment, many nursing home owners and operators began to drain PPE from their properties. This meant they were making money off of the deprivation of their employees and those entrusted in their care to make an additional buck. And it was not just a single dollar. N95 masks were being sold from warehouses in New York and New Jersey to hospitals in California willing to pay upwards of $5.50/mask, out of fear of a shortage. There were brokers and middle men and procurement officers all benefiting from these sales, some unknowingly breaking the law and some irreverent.
This pillaging of PPE likely did not just happen in New York, but also in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and the list likely goes on. You see, Legislator Kim, many of the magnates owning and operating the nursing homes and rehabilitation centers in New York also own others throughout the country. The death and devastation in New York was writ small a problem of lack of nursing home oversight. Governor Cuomo made a tactical and mathematical error, in our estimation. Either he did not know how bad was the care in many of New York’s nursing homes pre-Covid-19; or he simply did not, nor does he now, care very much. That pre-Covid willingness to ignore the needs of the elderly, translated to a higher death rate. But it’s all in the narrative. There are always more elderly to fill a bed. There is no politics in having a conscience. Factor in the guardians, many of whom also donate to political campaigns, and there were people waiting in line to fill beds.
For many of us, Governor Cuomo was the voice of reason while then President Trump was ignoring the problem, at least for the general public, so his actions with respect to the numbers represents a significant conflict. Yet the elderly are, after all, fungible assets. They are lives to be trafficked; and it would seem their vulnerability pre-Covid-19 was compounded by a prohibition on visiting them, a reduced level of oversight that could be easily exploited. And, it makes sense that reaching for the low-hanging fruit as far as the profit in human life, and death, was the best play for all concerned, except the elderly.
Why not, when a provision could be written into the law that would magically make the liability disappear, just sneak it in?
Why did Governor Cuomo give nursing homes immunity from Covid deaths?
Imagine fielding hundreds of calls from worried constituents at the peak of the first Covid-19 wave, trying to help scared families protect loved ones in nursing homes.
Imagine being stonewalled by those nursing homes and the department of health as you sought answers to life-and-death questions, knowing that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s directive forced these unprepared facilities to take in thousands of Covid-positive patients.
This was what I was going through as a New York state assemblyman when I received a call from a New York Times reporter about a corporate legal immunity provision that gave for-profit nursing homes and hospitals get-out-of-jail-free cards.
My heart sank as I read it. I did not need a PhD or law degree to understand the repercussions of handing out legal immunity to for-profit nursing homes, which now had legal and criminal shields to disincentivize them from saving lives.
Many of my colleagues had no idea the 2020 budget contained a legal shield that gave nursing home executives, trustees and board members blanket immunity. I voted against the budget bill, but if more members knew about the full implications of the legal immunity clause, there was no chance it would have passed.
So how and why did a blanket corporate immunity clause end up in the state budget?
In Albany and state capitals across the country, powerful governors routinely sneak toxic, corporate-friendly provisions into annual budget bills, hoping that lawmakers and the public are not paying attention. These are laws – like corporate legal immunity – that would never pass as stand-alone legislation.
The bigger question is why this provision was added in.Continue reading in The Guardian.
Cuomo health commissioner won’t say who ordered cover-up of nursing home deaths
New York state’s embattled health commissioner refused on Thursday to say who in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration ordered that the number of nursing home residents who died of COVID-19 in hospitals be kept under wraps.
During a virtual budget hearing, Dr. Howard Zucker was questioned by state Sen. Tom O’Mara (R-Elmira) about why he “stonewalled” lawmakers and the Empire Center for Public Policy after they formally requested the data.
“Commissioner, whose decision was it to not release the records?” O’Mara asked.Continue reading in The New York Post
New York lawmakers grill Cuomo’s health commissioner over nursing homes
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s health commissioner came under a five-hour virtual grilling on Thursday as lawmakers, including some of Cuomo’s fellow Democrats, sought more details about the governor’s nursing home policies during the earliest weeks of the coronavirus pandemic last spring.
During the often contentious hearing, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker stood by the Cuomo administration’s longstanding assertion that asymptomatic spread among nursing home workers — and not the admission of Covid patients in those facilities — led to viral outbreaks and deaths. He accused critics of attempting to “politicize” the issue.Continue reading in Politico
New York COVID-19 nursing home deaths undercounted by as much as 50%, state AG investigation finds
ALBANY, N.Y. – A probe by the New York Attorney General’s Office found COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents in the state may have been undercounted by as much as 50% as poor infection-control practices and understaffing fueled the coronavirus crisis inside the long-term care facilities.
The bombshell investigation reported the state Department of Health’s controversial policy to only publicly report COVID-19 deaths of residents inside nursing homes and withhold deaths of residents transferred to hospitals hindered attempts to improve conditions inside the facilities.
The true COVID-19 death toll of New York nursing home residents is closer to 13,000, as opposed to the 8,677 reported to date by the state Department of Health, according to the investigation’s findings. Nursing homes might have also undercounted their deaths to the state, the report said.Continue reading in USA Today