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Albany must hold nursing home scandal hearings

A state senator from Queens is demanding the Legislature hold special hearings on the coronavirus nursing home scandal that has engulfed Gov. Andrew Cuomo — separate from a federal probe that is underway.

Aside from accusations that the administration covered up the reporting of COVID-19 nursing home deaths, Sen. Leroy Comrie wants answers about allegations that COVID-19 positive residents at a veterans home in his southeast Queens district were given experimental drug cocktails without consent.

“We need to get to the truth. Clearly mistakes were made. We want full disclosure on what the hell happened from A to Z,” Comrie said.

“I’m personally pushing for the Legislature to hold hearings on the nursing home mess, It’s a mess. No doubt about it. We need to drill down to find out what happened so it doesn’t happen again.”

Comrie said the COVID-19 nursing home scandal is a full-blown crisis that has shaken public confidence.

He said many constituents in his district tell him they will not send their loved ones to nursing homes amid revelations that the Cuomo administration for months deliberately withheld the full toll of residents who died from the virus.

The FBI and the Brooklyn US Attorney’s Office have launched a probe into Cuomo’s COVID-19 task force — reportedly following the Post’s revelation of private remarks by Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa.

During a Feb. 10 virtual meeting with Democratic lawmakers, DeRosa said Cuomo’s team withheld from them and the public the total number of nursing home residents killed by COVID-19 due to a pending probe by the Justice Department, worrying the data “was going to be used against us” and “we froze.”

The next day she said that the administration was cooperating with providing information to the feds — though not to lawmakers or the public.

State Sen. Leroy Comrie at a press conference on August 11, 2020.
State Sen. Leroy Comrie at a press conference on August 11, 2020.
Dan Herrick

The Cuomo administration only began releasing a more detailed and accurate count of COVID-19 deaths tied nursing home resident deaths after a stinging report by state Attorney General Leticia James estimated state officials undercounted fatalities by 50 percent.

Cuomo officials had only been releasing the number of nursing home residents who died inside long-term care facilities — but was excluding thousands of infected residents who died in hospitals.

A judge earlier this month also ordered Cuomo and his health department to release the full death count, ruling that they broke the law by denying a legal request for the data filed by the Empire Center for Public Policy for the information.

More than 13,600 nursing home residents were killed by COVID-19, the data revealed — about 5,000 more than the Cuomo administration reported just a few weeks ago The death tally tops 15,000 when including residents who lived in other long-term care and assisted living facilities, according to updated state data.

Comrie called nursing home residents “people who made our lives on earth” who should be treated with dignity and respect.

“We have to restore the trust and integrity in nursing homes. We have to restore trust in our health care system,” Comrie said.

“We have to make sure residents are not exploited or experimented on. We need to put protections in place before the next crisis hits,” he said.

He is particularly incensed about the alleged treatment of residents at the state-run St. Alban’s Veterans’ Home. More than 60 residents were given experimental drug cocktails of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin without consent from patients or families — their loved ones told news site The City.

“We need to get the truth. The governor should be leading the charge. I don’t understand why he’s not doing everything he can to restore trust in the nursing homes, especially the veterans homes,” Comrie said.

“The governor should be making sure people have trust in the safety of nursing homes. The governor needs to come out with a clear voice.”

Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens), who accused Cuomo of threatening to destroy his political career in a heated personal phone call about the scandal — claims the governor has denied — backed Comrie’s call for legislative hearings, particularly regarding drugs at veterans’ homes.

“Good. I agree 100% with him. DOH says they didn’t know but at this point we can’t trust them,” Kim said on Sunday.

Assemblyman Ron Kim at a press conference on August 11, 2020.
Assemblyman Ron Kim at a press conference on August 11, 2020.
Dan Herrick

State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker is scheduled to testify during a legislative budget hearing on Thursday.

In a statement Sunday, a state health department spokesman insisted that “Allegations that the Department of Health participated in Hydroxychloroquine experimentation with residents at New York State Veterans Homes are simply not true.”

“No resident of a veteran’s home was ever a part of any state supported study of this medication. It was used only as an treatment and not as part of an experiment, in the early days of this pandemic when people were dying, no other therapies existed, and Hydroxychloroquine seemed like the only hope,” said rep Gary Holmes.

“Patient privacy precludes us from commenting about specific cases, but it was the practice of the Veterans’ homes to discuss use of this therapy with patients who were mentally competent, or for those who were not, with their designated healthcare proxy or legal surrogate. New York State Veterans Homes had already discontinued use of this treatment for COVID-19 before the FDA revoked the emergency use authorization in June 2020.”

Hydroxychloroquine, which has been used to treat malaria, showed promise early on in helping patients sick from the coronavirus. But the Food and Drug Administration subsequently warned against prescribing the drug for COVID-19 outside of hospitals or clinical trials because of the risk of serious side effects like heart rhythm problems and death.

A study published last month of 368 male veterans with the coronavirus found that 28 percent who were given hydroxychloroquine and usual health care died — compared to 11 percent who just got routine care.


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