New York state should conduct an independent review of its COVID-19 pandemic policies, hold public hearings and make public its final report and conclusions, a coalition of watchdog organizations urged last month in a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul.
The groups made their letter to Hochul sent on May 16 public on Monday and after the governor signaled on May 24 she would conduct an assessment of COVID policies using an outside consultant.
Hochul is yet to formally outline the independent review or reveal who will be conducting it for her administration.
Calls for an independent review of COVID policies are being led by Reinvent Albany, a good-government organization, as well as the Empire Center, a right-leaning fiscal think tank, which has tracked nursing home deaths.
Also signing onto the letter were Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the New York Public Interest Research Group.
"We believe it is imperative that New York State government and the broader public are provided with an impartial, objective assessment that we all can learn from and that will improve the state response to future pandemics or other disasters," the groups wrote in the letter to Hochul.
The letter outlines steps Hochul can take, including having the assessment done by independent experts free of political connections in the state, holding public meetings on the issue, providing a review panel with full access to documentation and making public a final report.
"When one aircraft crashes, the National Transportation Safety Board sends a team of experts that spend months analyzing what happened, why, and how such crashes can be prevented in the future," the groups wrote in the letter. "In New York, COVID-19 took a human and societal toll equivalent to many hundreds of jetliners crashing. A sober-minded, independent, expert assessment of how New York State responded to COVID should be proportional to the enormity of the disaster New Yorkers have endured."
Hochul's office reported on Monday the COVID death toll in New York now stands at 56,306 people. Hospitalizations of people with COVID now stand at 1,953 and more than 58% of those patients were admitted to the hospital for a reason other than COVID.
There have been calls for an independent investigation into how New York's nursing home policies during the pandemic may have contributed to the death toll in the early months of the crisis. New York required nursing homes to not turn away COVID-positive patients amid concerns the state's hospital networks would be overrun.
A report released in early 2021 by New York Attorney General Letitia James' office found the Cuomo administration likely underreported the number of nursing home residents who died during the pandemic.
State lawmakers and family members of nursing home residents have pushed for the creation of an independent commission to study the nursing home issues. Measures that would have created the panel in law were not given final approval as lawmakers concluded the legislative session.
Hochul last month, however, said her review of the pandemic would be broader.
"History deserves to have a true record of what happened here, and I want an outside look at it," she said. "I have to be able to leave future governors what was learned, not just in the health care space and the response dealing with nursing homes, but also decisions that affected our economy, decisions that affected families."