NY nursing home deaths: Gov Cuomo slammed for 'who cares where they died' comment, WH says DOJ to decide probe

NY nursing home deaths: Gov Cuomo slammed for 'who cares where they died' comment, WH says DOJ to decide probe
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has come up with a shocking defense that has fuelled criticism against him (Getty Images)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was praised as a hero last year for leading the badly hit state’s fight against Covid-19 pandemic, has faced a massive backlash over an alleged cover-up of deaths caused by the virus in the state’s nursing homes. On Thursday, January 28, New York Attorney General Letitia James released a report that claimed that Cuomo’s health department under-reported the number of Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50 percent. And now, Cuomo has come up with a shocking defense that has fuelled the criticism against him. 

Cuomo on Friday, January 29, said “who cares” if a Covid death was counted in a nursing home or hospital, while defending his administration for undercounting nursing home deaths by a few thousands. Speaking at a briefing on the Covid-19 situation, the 63-year-old NY governor said it was irrelevant where the deaths happened as long as they were counted in total. 

Family members mourn the death of Conrad Coleman Jr. following his funeral service on July 03, 2020 in New Rochelle, New York. Coleman, 39, died of COVID-19 on June 20, 2020. (Getty Images)

“Whether a person died in a hospital or died in a nursing home – people died,” Cuomo said, adding: “Everyone did the best they could.” The Democratic governor also said the criticism was being done by the Republicans while suggesting that deaths of elderly people living in crowded settings were inevitable in times of a pandemic. 

“It’s continuing today even with all the testing that we're doing. If you look at New York state we have a lower percentage of deaths in nursing homes than other states. A third of all deaths in this nation are from nursing homes. New York state we're only at 28%, but we're below the national average in nursing homes. But who cares -- 33, 28 -- died in a hospital, died in a nursing home. They died,” Cuomo said, drawing ire of people whose loved ones were among the dead. 

The 76-page investigative report was released following a long probe by the office of James, also a Democrat, into charges that nursing homes failed to follow coronavirus safety protocols. The AG’s office also looked into inconsistencies between the number of deaths happening in the nursing homes as reported by the Empire State’s health department and that reported by the facilities. The investigation revealed that “many nursing home residents died from Covid-19 in hospitals after being transferred from their nursing homes, which is not reflected in D.O.H.’s published total nursing home death data”. 

Cuomo, who recently said told MSNBC in an interview that incompetent government killed people and more people died than required in Covid in an indirect dig at the former Donald Trump administration, is now being mocked for the same. But the unfazed leader called the charges “political football” and reiterated that deaths in hospitals or nursing homes didn’t matter. “People died. People died,” he said. New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker has also faced a backlash over the matter with the state’s local elected leaders calling for his resignation. 


Cuomo called disgusting, callous

Cuomo, who completed a decade as a governor of New York this month, was called “disgusting”, “callous” and “gutless coward” by critics for his "who cares" remarks. More than 43,000 people have died of coronavirus in NY’s nursing homes while the nursing home death toll stands at around 12,800. Data suggested that New York’s nursing-home death toll could be more than 13,000 while the official state tally is 8,711 and excluded patients transported to a hospital before their deaths.


Cuomo, who said everybody did their best when asked what he would say to the aggrieved families, also accused the previous Trump administration of making people believe that he was responsible for the nursing home deaths. Calling it “mean”, Cuomo said: “To play politics with it the way they did, that was mean. When the Trump administration was trying to divert blame...blame all the Democratic governors for the deaths in nursing homes..that was mean. 

“It was mean because if you lost someone in a nursing home, it made you think maybe they didn’t have to die. It wasn’t true,” he added. 

The governor then said that he “understood” people’s anger and tendency to blame for the passing away of their loved ones since he felt the same when his own father Mario died in 2015 following heart issues at the age of 82.


Justice dept to decide whether Cuomo should be probed: White House

Meanwhile, the White House said on Friday that it was the justice department that would decide whether an investigation is warranted in Cuomo’s role in the nursing home deaths fiasco. When Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked during a briefing if President Joe Biden supports a federal probe into Cuomo’s alleged role, the former pushed  the ball into the justice department’s court saying: “I’ve seen those reports. I would say any investigation, I would point to the Department of Justice.”


White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki (Getty Images)


She reiterated the same when pressed further on the issue. “Again, any investigation would be led by the Department of Justice. We’re in a new age where they’re independent and they will determine what path they take moving forward,” she said when asked if a review is required into the issue. 

While the justice department did not immediately respond to questions related to the matter, it sought data from Cuomo and three other governors last year about orders related to nursing home residents with Covid-19. It later also asked for detailed numbers from several facilities in the state.


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