Judge: Gov Cuomo Broke the Law by Covering Up COVID Nursing Home Death Toll
Court orders New York Health Department to hand over documents to watchdog group
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo administration's Health Department broke NY State law by covering up the total numbers of nursing home deaths caused by COVID-19, an Albany judge has ruled.
Cuomo's admin failed to provide the real death toll figures to a watchdog group that had requested the records.
In a 16-page decision on Wednesday, Albany Supreme Court Justice Kimberly O'Connor ruled that the Department of Health (DOH) must provide the records to the Empire Center for Public Policy within five business days and pay their legal costs.
In August, the watchdog had filed a Freedom of Information Law request seeking to obtain the documents from the Health Department.
However, Cuomo's administration delayed releasing them for months.
The ruling follows a bombshell report from the office of Attorney General Letitia James in January found that the Cuomo administration had misled the public about the total number of nursing home residents killed by the pandemic.
Justice O’Connor blasted the DOH for repeatedly telling the Empire Center for Public Policy “that it was unable to respond to the [Freedom of Information Law] request” since it was filed six months ago.
“DOH does not, in the Court’s opinion, offer an adequate explanation as to why it has not responded to that request within its estimated time period or to date,” O’Connor wrote.
“Its continued failure to provide petitioner a response, given the straightforward nature of the request … goes against FOIL’s broad standard of open and transparent government and is a violation of that statute.”
The Empire Center’s Bill Hammond called the ruling “a great victory," according to The New York Post.
“We’re very pleased but we don’t have the data yet and there’s still a chance that they will appeal and tie this up for potentially months longer — and given the way they’ve behaved so far, I wouldn’t be surprised,” he said.
"I think that appeal would be doomed.
"I think they don’t have a leg to stand on legally.”
The ruling was also hailed by one of Cuomo’s fellow Democrats — Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried of Manhattan.
“It’s an important victory for all of us,” Gottfried said in a prepared statement.
"This is important data that we in the Legislature and countless New Yorkers have been demanding for months.
“The Empire Center has performed an important public service.”
On Thursday, state Attorney General Letitia James issued a report that estimated the DOH tally of COVID-19 deaths that took place in nursing homes could be 56 percent higher if it included residents who died in hospitals.
The report forced Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to finally release figures that pushed the total official tally to 12,743 as of Jan. 19.
The day before James issued her report, the DOH was only acknowledging that 8,711 residents had died in nursing homes.
Controversy over the revelation led Cuomo to callously say during a news conference Friday, “But who cares [if they] died in the hospital, died in a nursing home? They died.”
Zucker — who’s facing bipartisan outrage, including a demand that he resign from the state Senate’s top Republican — has claimed he was auditing the hospital numbers for accuracy but decided to release them in the wake of James’ report.
In a prepared statement, DOH spokesman Gary Holmes said, “With the preliminary audit complete, we were already in the process of responding to their FOIL request, and updating DOH’s website with publicly available information.”
The statement didn’t say when those moves would take place.