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Hochul apologizes to family members of nursing home residents who died of COVID

New York governor Kathy Hochul speaks during a ceremony to sign a package of bills to combat the opioid crisis, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, in New York.
Mary Altaffer
Associated Press
New York Governor Kathy Hochul

Governor Kathy Hochul said she has apologized to family members of nursing home residents who died at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York. The governor, in a weekly briefing on the state’s management of the coronavirus, also drew attention to another infectious disease — the flu — which she said may also pose a serious health threat this year.

Hochul, who was the first state elected official to publicly get the COVID vaccine, received her annual flu shot on Wednesday before the cameras.

“I made sure I wore the mask so you wouldn’t see whether I winced or not,” Hochul joked.

The state is running a public service announcement urging New Yorkers to get the flu vaccine.

Last year’s flu season was very light, as the pandemic placed restrictions on social interactions, but the governor said that might not be the case this year, and more people could get sick.

Hochul also revealed details of a private meeting she held Tuesday between Assembly Aging Committee Chair Ron Kim, and family members of people who died of COVID in nursing homes.

The family members, along with Kim, blame some of the deaths on former Governor Andrew Cuomo’s pandemic policies, including a March 25, 2020, directive that required nursing homes to take residents who were infected with the virus back from hospitals. The directive, and the subsequent undercounting of nursing home deaths, are the targets of a federal investigation into the actions of Cuomo and his former top aides.

Hochul, who replaced Cuomo in August after he resigned, said she did something her predecessor did not do. She told the family members that she is sorry for what happened.

“I apologized for the pain that those poor families had to endure,” Hochul said. “It was a very emotional meeting.”

Kim, in a statement after the meeting, called it a “step in the right direction” but said there’s a long road to travel before the state reaches full accountability for what happened.

The families, who have formed an advocacy group called Voices for Seniors, expressed some skepticism, saying that after a year of Cuomo’s “gaslighting,” they hope that the meeting was not an attempt to silence them and continue to control the narrative around nursing home deaths.

Kim and the family members are seeking a compensation fund and a memorial. Hochul said her staff is working on both those requests.

“This is not a one off,” Hochul said. “This is not just a photo opp.”


Hochul also addressed Tuesday’s court ruling on a portion of the state’s vaccine mandate. A federal court judge ruled that health care employees will be allowed to decline the vaccine because of their religious beliefs. Hochul called the ruling “disappointing” and said the state will appeal.

“I will be standing behind this mandate,” she said.

The governor said the vaccine mandate has worked, and has led to over 95% of hospital workers, nursing home staff, home health care aides and adult care facility workers getting at least one dose of the vaccine.

Hochul has not released a tally of health care workers who quit their jobs rather than get the vaccine, saying the state does not keep records of those numbers.

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.