The top lawmaker on the Senate Health Committee on Tuesday said public hearings are needed to clarify the conclusions of a Department of Health report that found nursing home deaths linked to COVID-19 were caused by asymptomatic staff and visitors to the facilities.
“While my team and I are delving into the information highlighted by this report, at first glance, it poses more questions than answers," said Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, in a statement. "It is clear that our upcoming public hearings are necessary to clarify the report's findings, and to bring to light the true scope of how COVID-19 impacted nursing homes and the entire long-term care community.”
Rivera, the Senate Health Committee chairman in the Democratic controlled chamber, had previously been supportive of holding hearings on the state's handling of nursing home deaths during the pandemic.
But it also comes as Cuomo has sought to paint criticism of his handling of nursing homes as inherently politically motivated by Republicans. GOP lawmakers in New York on Monday again called for a public accounting of the issue.
The report released by Health Commissioner Howard Zucker came after Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration faced weeks of criticism for an order that required nursing homes and long term care facilities to take in COVID-positive patients. More than 6,000 nursing home residents since March in New York have died due to the disease or have deaths that are believed to be attributed to COVID-19.
But the report largely absolved the March 25 guidance as a reason for the death rate, pointing instead to staff and guests who carried the virus into the facilities unknowingly.
New York banned visitors to nursing homes on March 13. On April 29, the state rescinded a guideline that allowed asympotmatic staff to continue working with coronavirus infect residents, a regulation that had been allowed by the federal Centers for Disease Control.
The Department of Health on Tuesday morning released a package of quotes from hospital executives and nursing home officials -- including a transcribed Capital Tonight interview with Leading Age New York President Jim Clyne -- who had agreed with the report's findings.