The top Republican in the New York State Senate, Senator Rob Ortt, is calling for the resignation of New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, after the state attorney general found that his office underreported nursing home COVID-19 deaths.
“The report released today by the Attorney General is confirmation for the thousands of families who lost loved ones to COVID-19 in New York nursing homes," read a statement from Ortt. "For months, Governor Cuomo and his administration have refused to be transparent or take any responsibility for actions they have taken during this public health crisis — including the deadly March 25, 2020 order to send COVID-positive patients into nursing homes.
"By underreporting COVID deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50 percent, the Department of Health has betrayed the public trust. To repair that broken trust, I am calling on Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to resign.”
NEW: Senate Minority Leader @SenatorOrtt is calling for the resignation of NYS Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker for “betraying the public trust,” after Attorney General report found that he has undercounted nursing home deaths by 50%. pic.twitter.com/Mu0EWrU3zg— Morgan Mckay (@morganfmckay) January 28, 2021
The State Health Department’s official state tally only accounts for around 8,200 deaths, but does not include the number of nursing home residents who were taken to the hospital and later passed away there.
Health experts estimate the actual number to be almost double the state’s number, and the AG’s report released on Thursday confirms this.
The Health Department still has not released the official number, despite repeatedly promising to do so. Zucker was set to testify at a health hearing on February 3, but the hearing was moved back to February 25.
State Senator James Skoufis, a Democrat who chairs the Committee on Investigations, says he will subpoena for these numbers if they are not released at the hearing later next month.
“The Attorney General's report represents a truly independent, evidence-based analysis of nursing home impacts during the pandemic,” wrote Skoufis. “The findings, while disturbing, are unsurprising — they validate what many of us already suspected and validate what my investigative team and I have been piecing together since our legislative hearings in 2020.
“The Attorney General's report further underscores the need for transparency and accountability within the Department of Health. As I commented earlier this week, the DOH Commissioner's unresponsiveness to the Legislature's many questions and concerns is insulting and unacceptable. While his next appearance before the Legislature was delayed until late February, it is my full expectation that he provides answers by the time of his testimony, otherwise he can anticipate an unpleasant and uncomfortable hearing. Without answers by then, I will support a move to compel the information from DOH.”