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Albany Threatens Subpoena Unless State Delivers Total Number of Covid-19 Nursing Home Deaths

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By Benyamin Davidsons

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Health Department have yet to release the number of Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes in New York.

On Monday, State Sen. James Skoufis (D-Newburgh) threatened to subpoena the state Health Department to release the number, saying he’s fed up with the months of evasion. “It is downright insulting to the co-equal State Legislature that, six months later, DOH is continuing to stonewall us on basic questions,” fumed Skoufis, in Albany during an unrelated press conference.

As reported by the NY Post, the top Democrat on the state Senate Investigations Committee along with a group of other bipartisan lawmakers, medical experts and family members, have been demanding the release of the accurate number of nursing home Covid-19 deaths, including those who needed to be transferred to hospitals due to the novel virus. The request has been directed to DOH Commissioner Howard Zucker, Gov. Cuomo’s leading health official.

“If the Commissioner fails to provide the long-overdue answers by the time he provides testimony at next week’s hearing, I am supportive of taking the next step and compelling the information, but the decision is not a unilateral one and requires support from the conference and leadership,” Skoufis said. He said that if the info is not provided, he will grill Zucker at the health-focused joint budget hearing scheduled for Feb. 3. “The hearing will be an unpleasant and uncomfortable one for Commissioner Zucker if he continues to withhold answers to the Legislature’s questions,” Skoufis warned.

The State originally said that about 8,400 people died in long term care facilities from the Coronavirus. Independent reports, however, said that number may be significantly higher. In May, NYS stopped giving an account of nursing home residents deaths that occurred outside the nursing homes. In August, Skoufis and other top Democrats on the state Senate Health and Aging Committees already grilled Zucker for hours trying to get an answer. “You don’t have a ballpark that you can give? So the total official number is about 6,500. Are we talking with the hospital deaths: 8,000? 10,000? 15,000? What are we looking at?” Skoufis said at the time. Zucker had responded that he did not want to give an answer that wasn’t accurate.

“He is the leader of a committee that has subpoena power and it has been 6 months. At some point we are going to have to know those numbers and it may be an embarrassment to [Cuomo] but for the closure of the family members I think it’s important to let them know what the real numbers are”, said Republican state Sen. Jim Tedisco (R-Glenville), siding with Skoufis.

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