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Zeldin says Hochul is stalling probe of controversial COVID-19 nursing home policies

Hochul Zeldin photos.jpg
Ashley Hupfl
/
WAMC
New York Governor Kathy Hochul and U.S. Representaive Lee Zeldin

Governor Kathy Hochul’s opponent in the race for governor, Lee Zeldin, said Hochul is stalling a review of the state’s COVID-19 policy decisions, including the deaths of thousands of nursing home residents, in order to gain political advantage. Hochul said outside consultants will examine every aspect of the pandemic — but she won’t rush the process.

Zeldin, a Republican who currently holds a congressional seat representing parts of Long Island, was joined by members of the group Voices for Our Seniors, made up of relatives of people who died in nursing homes early in the pandemic. He said Hochul is deliberately delaying the investigation until after the November 8 election.

“Kathy Hochul is dragging her feet because of politics, and because there’s an election coming up on November 8,” Zeldin said. “In my opinion, that’s the reason why we are not seeing this advanced.”

Zeldin, a former U.S. Army officer, said after a military action, an official accounting is done to determine what lessons can be learned for use in the future. He said if he becomes governor, he would immediately commence two investigations.

One would be administrative, to review policies like how the shortage of personal protective equipment and other equipment was addressed. A second probe would focus on a controversial order issued by former Governor Andrew Cuomo and his administration in the spring of 2020. It required hospitals to send COVID-19 positive patients back to nursing homes.

A report by state Attorney General Tish James found that Cuomo and his health commissioners undercounted nursing home deaths by half during that time period. An impeachment inquiry by the state Legislature investigated accusations that Cuomo covered up the true number of nursing home deaths while he produced a memoir about his leadership during the pandemic. Cuomo has denied that he was involved in a cover-up.

Zeldin said despite the controversies, Hochul — who has been in office since last August when Cuomo resigned — has not even begun looking at what happened.

“The governor’s office has not yet even submitted a request for a proposal to the (state) Comptroller’s Office to start the bidding process to hire the independent investigators, never mind actually starting the investigation,” Zeldin said. “So this is a delay that is inexcusable.”

Zeldin said Hochul was Lieutenant Governor during the time when pandemic policies were made and bears some responsibility for what was done. Hochul was not part of the Cuomo administration’s inner circle, and was not involved in day-to-day decision-making.

Hochul said in May that she would soon appoint a blue-ribbon panel to look at the pandemic policies, including the nursing home deaths.

“I actually have outside consultants that will be working with us to examine every aspect of the pandemic — the good, the bad and the ugly,” Hochul said. “Because I have to be able to leave future governors what was learned.”

A spokesman for the governor, Bryan Lesswing, said the governor has also worked to pass laws strengthening protections for nursing home residents, and invested $20 billion dollars in the state budget for improving the health care workforce over the next several years.

The governor said in May that she would not rush the review process.

“It’s going to take some time, but I believe that history deserves to have a true record of what happened here,” Hochul said. “And I want an outside look at it.”

But she has taken no further action since. On July 11, Hochul said a request for proposals will be going out soon. The governor, who leads Zeldin in the polls and has millions of dollars more in her campaign war chest, said she is not feeling pressured to act more quickly.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.