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Cuomo accepts some fault over nursing home decisions

New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoFormer Cuomo aide says governor kissed her without consent Cuomo job approval drops 6 points amid nursing home controversy: poll Cruz blames criticism of Cancun trip on media 'Trump withdrawal' MORE (D) on Monday defended his administration’s pandemic response, while accepting some fault himself, as scrutiny mounts over how the state handled COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. 

The New York governor confirmed in a press conference that the state Department of Health “paused” state lawmakers’ inquiry into nursing home death data to prioritize dealing with the general pandemic and the Department of Justice’s request for similar information in August.

Cuomo noted that both chambers of the state legislature were informed of the department’s decision at the time that led to the “delay,” adding, “They can’t say they didn’t know.”

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His press conference comes days after his top aide Melissa DeRosa told state legislators on a call that the administration “froze” releasing information about long-term care facility deaths out of concern the Department of Justice would launch a federal investigation — a revelation that has sparked bipartisan backlash. 

The governor acknowledged that the postponement of data from his government led to a “void” of facts, allowing for misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories to spread.

"The void allowed misinformation and conspiracy, and now people are left with the thought of, 'did my loved one have to die?' And that is a brutal, brutal question to pose to a person," he said. "And I want everyone to know everything was done. Everything was done by the best minds in the best interest."

"In retrospect, should we have given more priority to fulfilling information requests? In my opinion, yes, and I think that's what created the void. But do I understand the pressure everyone was under? Yes," Cuomo said during Monday’s briefing. 

State legislators criticized Cuomo’s defense Monday, saying that the administration could have released data after handling the DOJ request in September instead of answering the legislature’s questions six months later, according to The New York Times. 

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New York has counted more than 15,000 COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. But as recently as late January, the state had reported 8,500 deaths in nursing homes, a total that did not include residents who died outside of the facilities, such as those who died after being transferred to a hospital.

Lawmakers have questioned whether Cuomo’s administration could have done more to prevent these deaths and the overall 37,221 fatalities due to COVID-19. 

Last week, the New York Post first reported DeRosa’s comments on the call regarding the freeze on nursing home death information. 

"And basically, we froze, because then we were in a position where we weren't sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice or what we give to you guys, what we start saying was going to be used against us while we weren't sure if there was going to be an investigation," she said, according to a transcript provided by Cuomo’s office. 

DeRosa clarified her remarks in a statement last week, saying "I was explaining that when we received the DOJ inquiry, we needed to temporarily set aside the Legislature's request to deal with the federal request first."

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"We informed the houses of this at the time," she said. "We were comprehensive and transparent in our responses to the DOJ, and then had to immediately focus our resources on the second wave and vaccine rollout."

"As I said on a call with legislators, we could not fulfill their request as quickly as anyone would have liked," DeRosa added. "But we are committed to being better partners going forward as we share the same goal of keeping New Yorkers as healthy as possible during the pandemic."

Criticism over the Cuomo administration’s management of nursing homes has mounted for months among congressional Republicans. It came to a head when New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) released a report last month that concluded the state should not have excluded the number of residents who died after being taken to hospitals from the nursing home death totals.

Updated on Feb. 16 at 11:46 a.m.