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Politics and Government

Sen. Rachel May ‘angered’ by report Cuomo aides changed nursing home data

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NYS Senator Rachel May Facebook

Syracuse-area state Sen. Rachel May said Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and whoever else was involved, should resign immediately if a New York Times article published Thursday, which says Cuomo’s top aides changed a state Health Department report on nursing home resident deaths, is true. The Wall Street Journal also published its own story, which said the report undercounted the number of nursing home deaths by thousands. The initial report counted more than 9,200 deaths, but the one published in July had just 6,432.

The Times said aides were alarmed by the initial number. Responding to the story, the governor’s office said the data was omitted after the Health Department could not confirm it had been adequately verified. The state was excluding nursing home residents who died in a hospital from the total number of nursing home deaths, but it did not change the overall number of COVID-19 deaths. 

May said the story has her angered. She said although Cuomo is not named, “It stemmed from his overweening need to burnish his public image, and it was made possible, if not inevitable, by the culture he created of secrecy and fear of retribution that has been amply documented in recent days.” She added that the scandal and lies has made it harder to focus on the cause of the deaths, “and the best path forward to protecting vulnerable nursing home residents.”  

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SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras.

The Times article says the aides involved in changing the report, includes Jim Malatras, the former top advisor to Cuomo and now SUNY chancellor. It was reported the back and forth of rewriting the draft went “well beyond the usual process” and “became ‘intense’ at times.” But Malatras did not remove the higher death toll. That was done after Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, and Linda Lacewell, superintendent of the Department of Financial Services, became aware of it.

Speaking in the Bronx on Friday, Malatras said he included the fatalities data, provided by the Health Department.

“I did not go through and change,” Malatras said. “I was asked to help review, provide feedback on scientific language in that public report, to make it more accessible for general audience. As with many reports, there were back and forth with structure, citations and other language during the process.”

Read Sen. May's full statement below.

The latest NYT report on machinations within the Cuomo Administration to hide the truth about nursing home deaths has angered me beyond measure. If true, everyone involved in lying to the public and to the Legislature must resign immediately. And that includes the Governor. Even though he is not named in this specific article, it was done in his name. It stemmed from his overweening need to burnish his public image, and it was made possible, if not inevitable, by the culture he created of secrecy and fear of retribution that has been amply documented in recent days. I am especially angry that the devastating tragedy that unfolded in our nursing homes over the past year has been twisted up in lies and political scandal. The controversy over how deaths were counted has made it much harder for us to focus on the cause of the deaths and the best path forward to protecting vulnerable nursing home residents. Excellent investigative reporting by Tim Knauss in syracuse.com this week confirms that it was, above all, staffing shortages and a general lack of infection control and communication at nursing homes that led to the high mortality rate. It seems to me the real culprit is the Governor’s pursuit of extreme austerity measures in the Medicaid budget over the past decade. The next administration must turn immediately to addressing the crisis in long-term care that plagues this state.