Mar 16, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Report: N.Y. health agency "misled" public on nursing home COVID deaths

Andrew Cuomo, former New York governor. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The New York State Health Department "misled the public" and failed to publicly account for the COVID-19 related deaths of over 4,000 N.Y. nursing home residents, according to an audit released on Tuesday by the state comptroller.

Why it matters: Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo had faced criticism over his administration's handling of COVID-19, particularly in nursing homes early in the pandemic.

  • He allegedly withheld data on coronavirus deaths in nursing homes in order to delay potential investigations.
  • The FBI and U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn announced last year that they were investigating the Cuomo administration over its handling of COVID-19 nursing home deaths.

Worth noting: The Health Department rejected "conflating the Cuomo administration's issues with transparency with the work of the department’s staff and the manner in which they use public health data" in a lengthy rebuttal of the report's findings to the New York Times.

  • Cuomo has previously taken responsibility for his administration's delay in releasing data on COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes, but said "nothing was hidden from anyone."

The big picture: The state comptroller's report found that the Health Department failed to meet its "ethical" and "moral" imperatives to act transparently by conforming to the narrative Cuomo and his administration pushed.

  • "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 in a manner that misled the public," the report said.

What they're saying: "Our audit findings are extremely troubling," State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a statement.

  • "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."

The other side: "Whatever criticisms may now be directed at the prior administration relating to issues of transparency, or the particular categories of information that were publicly disclosed, those ultimately were matters for the executive chamber of the prior administration and not department personnel," the Health Department told the NYT.

  • Representatives for the Health Department and Cuomo did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment on the report.
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