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More info on nursing home deaths needed

Newsday

For 11 months, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other state officials hadn’t answered some of the tough questions about the terrible toll COVID-19 was taking on nursing homes and other adult facilities across the state.

On Monday, after enormous pressure, Cuomo finally took responsibility for the dearth of information and lack of communication on this topic, and tried to provide some additional context.

Those efforts were welcome and necessary steps in what’s been a lengthy, contentious chapter of the state’s handling of the pandemic.

But Cuomo didn’t go far enough, and it is unclear whether he assuaged the concerns of the families of the 15,049 residents of nursing home and other adult-care facilities who died of COVID-19.

In admitting that he should have better prioritized providing information, Cuomo said misinformation and conspiracy theories filled the void. That’s true, and some of the false claims are ugly. But Cuomo missed the larger point: It’s the state’s job to be forthright with the public — and his administration failed. He blamed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Justice, and a “toxic political environment” for influencing his decision-making.

And at no time did Cuomo apologize.

Significant questions remain. Should the state have handled nursing homes differently from the beginning? Should the state’s controversial March guidance that required nursing homes that were able to take patients discharged from hospitals been issued, and should it have been rescinded sooner? And why was the state not more responsive more quickly to demands for more information about the nursing home residents who died in hospitals or other places and were not included in the toll for nursing homes, and why were they not included? Cuomo noted that the state’s percentage of COVID-19 nursing home resident deaths was 34th in the nation, and said the disease was in 98% of facilities before any patient arrived from a hospital. He also noted that the death rate in nursing homes before the state guidance and after it was rescinded was the same. While the data provided context, it didn’t resolve outstanding questions. And while Cuomo tried to explain the impact of the DOJ requests for data, we still don’t know why the requests stopped the state from providing information to anyone else.

Cuomo said, “I don’t think there is anything to clear here … There is nothing to investigate.” That’s the wrong mindset.

There is more to learn.

Attorney General Letitia James must continue her probe, and the State Legislature should hold hearings. The DOJ must determine whether the information provided by the state is accurate and whether an investigation is needed.

Even Cuomo’s announcement Monday that he plans to prioritize nursing home reform, with a focus on possibly capping the profits of the nursing home industry, speaks to why oversight hearings are necessary.

We must learn from the mistakes. It’s the only way to heal.

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