ALBANY — State Sen. George Borrello joined Republican colleagues Wednesday in demanding that the Senate Democratic majority use subpoena power to compel the governor and state health officials to testify on coronavirus in nursing homes.
Borrello of Chautauqua County and Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt want Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Dr. Howard Zucker, the state’s health commissioner, and any state official with knowledge of the March 25 directive that sent COVID-19- positive patients into nursing homes to testify at hearings planned in August.
Democrats “inviting” administration officials is not adequate, Borrello said in a press release.
“It is crucial that these hearings be more than window dressing,” the senator said. “We need a thorough and full accounting of what led to the dangerous directive mandating that nursing homes accept COVID-positive patients.”
Borrello said state residents also need to know why the state failed to provide adequate PPE, tests, staffing support and other resources required to provide the highest level of infection control.
“These facilities caring for our most vulnerable should have been the highest priority, yet all evidence indicates otherwise,” the senator, whose 57th Senate District includes Cattaraugus and Allegany counties, said.
Ortt insisted that lawmakers see documents and emails to fully understand why Cuomo made the directive, which critics claim led to the deaths of thousands of nursing home residents during the pandemic.
Borrello says the virus hit New York’s nursing homes disproportionately hard, with some 6,500 deaths in the facilities accounting for roughly one-third of the more than 25,000 deaths in New York.
Cuomo has pointed to guidance by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for his March 25 directive, while also suggesting that nursing home facility staff then brought the virus into facilities.
The governor is facing criticism for the state health department’s internal report that dismissed the March directive as “not a significant factor” in the wave of nursing home deaths because of coronavirus.
The governor, who at times has been praised for his leadership during the pandemic in hard-hit New York, has derided the calls for hearings as “ugly politics.”
Borrello argues that the state also has yet to acknowledge that nursing homes throughout New York have continually faced budget cuts, which have resulted in persistent staffing shortages that jeopardize quality of care, a problem only exasperated by the COVID-19 outbreak. Instead of providing additional support to these facilities during this critical time, additional cuts were tucked into this year’s state budget, he said.
Borrello notes that the Senate Majority did not prioritize hearings on residential health care facilities until August. Meanwhile, Democrats have scheduled a hearing on 2022 redistricting for this month.