As disgraces former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tries to restart his political career, a recently-concluded audit shows that the New York State Health Department data that effectively concealed the deaths of 4,100 people in nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the audit released by state comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, the Cuomo administration failed to publicly account for the nursing home residents who died.
The audit determined that Health Department officials at times by under-reporting the total death toll by 50 percent between April 2020 to February 2021, as Cuomo faced increasing scrutiny over whether the administration had intentionally concealed the actual death count.
The 41-page audit report concluded that the Health Department often acquiesced to the narrative of Cuomo’s administration and failed to meet its “moral” and “ethical” imperatives to act transparently.
“Our audit findings are extremely troubling,” said DiNapoli.
“The public was misled by those at the highest level of state government through distortion and suppression of the facts when New Yorkers deserved the truth.”
DiNapoli said that although the concealment has been discovered, the names and numbers of nursing home residents who died from Covid are still uncertain.
The comptroller’s audit marks the third state inquiry to corroborate how the Cuomo administration significantly downplayed the number of deaths in nursing homes during the pandemic. Cuomo’s efforts coincided with his attempts to raise his public image at the height of his national popularity in 2020.
Cuomo, a Democrat, ultimately resigned due to the nursing home deaths controversy and other administration scandals, including sexual harassment accusations from numerous women.
At the time, Cuomo officials were eager to deflect scrutiny from critics and political opponents. Cuomo argued that the residents who died in hospitals were included in the overall state coronavirus death toll. The Cuomo administration also claimed that the data needed to be vetted before being released and was unreliable.
However, the comptroller’s report refuted Cuomo’s assertion and found that the administration was aware of the higher death toll, yet continued to withhold it even after it had been corrected for the majority of discrepancies in May 2020, only a few months into the pandemic.
“Rather than providing accurate and reliable information during a public health emergency, the department instead conformed its presentation to the executive’s narrative, often presenting data that misled the public,” the report read.
The audit detailed longstanding, continuing issues with the Health Department’s oversight of nursing homes conditions and found that often there was a lack of coordination with local health officials during the pandemic.
Cuomo’s handling of the nursing homes has also become the subject of a federal investigation, although the status of that investigation is unknown. The audit’s release comes as Cuomo is attempting to wade back into public life while trying to rehabilitate his image in the time since his resignation.