Older people would have died during the pandemic no matter what was done, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on May 17.
Cuomo, facing a wave of criticism over a controversial mandate requiring nursing homes not to deny admission or readmission to residents based solely on a COVID-19 diagnosis, was told of a family who lost two relatives to the disease.
“They’re looking for accountability, and they feel like they were failed. What’s the comment to that?” a reporter asked.
“We lost 139 people yesterday in hospitals. Who is accountable for those 139 deaths? How do we get justice for those families who had 139 deaths? What is justice? Who can we prosecute for those deaths? Nobody,” Cuomo responded.
Describing the hospital system in the state as the best in the world, Cuomo said doctors and nurses did their best, and no patient was denied a bed.
“And still people died. Older people, vulnerable people are going to die from this virus. That is going to happen. Despite whatever you do,” Cuomo said.
The governor said he speaks to people regularly who lost loved ones to the CCP virus. The most difficult conversations, he said, are with people who lost loved ones who weren’t elderly and who didn’t have an existing health condition.
“There’s a randomness to this virus that is inexplicable. Why do people die? That’s beyond this. Who’s accountable? You can have a situation where everyone did the right thing and everyone tried their best. And people still died,” he said.
Pressed on whether, if certain mandates were implemented sooner lives would have been saved, Cuomo said: “I don’t—look, people rationalize death in different ways. I don’t think there is any logical rationale to say they would be alive today.”
The governor’s office didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment on the remarks, including Cuomo’s position on calls for an independent probe into the state’s March 25 directive.
Cuomo has faced harsh criticism even from some in his own party over his handling of the pandemic.
“He’s unwilling to say there’s anything they did that was wrong, and he doesn’t seem willing to learn from his mistakes,” Ron Kim, a Democrat in the state Assembly, told the Albany Times-Union.
“We’re all learning as we go with this, and the governor is allowed to make mistakes. But not being able to recognize mistakes so we don’t repeat them in a possible second wave of the pandemic is dangerous.”
The March order informed nursing home operators that they couldn’t refuse to accept residents even if they tested positive for COVID-19, drawing widespread criticism from advocacy groups, relatives, and officials.
“No resident shall be denied readmission or admission to a nursing home solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19,” the order stated. It was later deleted from the state’s website. Officials reversed part of the order last week but said operators still cannot deny residents based on testing results.
Cuomo in April said the state was probing nursing home operators, who could lose their license or face a fine if they couldn’t prove they were following state policies.
Some 5,300 nursing home patients have died in the homes with COVID-19. That number doesn’t include residents who were rushed to hospitals and died there.
A provision inserted in the state’s budget bill in March provided immunity for nursing homes and other health care facilities, and health care professionals, “from any liability, civil or criminal,” for any alleged misconduct or mistakes while providing care.
At least 14 other states have granted similar protections to nursing homes and long-term care facilities, according to an Associated Press tally.
The provision was cheered by some. Calling themselves “deeply grateful” to Cuomo and state lawmakers, the Greater New York Hospital Association said in a statement that the legislation “collectively eased at least part of your frontline health care workers’ massive challenges.”
Toby Edelman of the Center for Medicare Advocacy said the change could make even gross or willful negligence lawsuits more difficult, since any problems found could be blamed on the pandemic.
“Everything can’t be blamed on COVID-19. Other things can happen that are terrible,” she told the Insurance Journal. “Just to say we’re in this pandemic so anything goes, that seems too far.”