ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) – During a 90-minute press briefing Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo hinted at forthcoming reforms in for-profit nursing homes.
“I have long believed that there is a tension in a for-profit nursing home, because those institutions are trying to make money,” Cuomo said.
“Everything becomes one or the other,” he continued. “Do you want to have more staff or do you want to make more profit? Do you want to buy more PPE and stockpile more PPE or do you want to make more profit? Do you want to buy new equipment, new beds, new sheets, new furniture, invest in the facility, or do you want to make more profit?”
The governor said he believes for-profit nursing homes should be mandated to put a certain amount of money back into the facility. He said the state would take a look at making reforms this budget cycle. The budget is due on April 1st.
In Erie County, 19 of 35 nursing homes are for-profit facilities, according to information from the Erie County Department of Senior Services.
Stephen Hanse, the president and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association, called criticism of for-profit nursing homes a “false narrative”. For his part, Hanse criticized the state’s “hospital-centric” approach to the pandemic and cuts to Medicaid.
“If New York really wants to resolve this issue, there are two critical things,” Hanse said. “Stop cutting Medicaid and treat long-term care as an investment, not an expense.”
Hanse also pointed out if a for-profit nursing facility put “profit over people”, it would be prosecuted.
“That just doesn’t occur. That is a deflection,” he said.
Cuomo made his announcement in the middle of a lengthy defense of his administration from criticism over its handling of nursing home information during the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor admitted Monday that a “void” was created by not providing the information.
“I understand the public had many questions and concerns and the press had many questions about nursing homes primarily, and I understand that they were not answered quickly enough, and they should have been prioritized and those requests prioritized sooner,” the governor said.
They were his first public comments since the release of a partial transcript of a meeting between Cuomo’s top aide and lawmakers. According to the transcript, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa apologized to the legislators for delaying in releasing information they asked for back in August.
“Basically, we froze, because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice or what we give to you guys, what we start saying was going to be used against us while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation,” DeRosa said, according to the transcript provided by the governor’s office.
The comments were first reported by the New York Post Thursday night. DeRosa explained in a follow-up statement on Friday that they simply wanted to set aside the legislature’s request for details to handle a request from the Department of Justice first.
“We were comprehensive and transparent in our responses to the DOJ, and then had to immediately focus our resources on the second wave and vaccine rollout,” she said in the statement.
However, the fallout has included criticism from not just Republicans, but Democrats as well. At least 14 Senate Democrats have publicly joined Republicans in saying they believe Cuomo’s emergency executive powers should be revoked. New York State GOP Chairman Nick Langoworthy has called for Cuomo to be impeached.
“I do suspect that a lot of Republicans will be sending out fundraising emails saying, ‘We need to impeach the governor,’ and keep banging that drum,” said Jack O’Donnell, managing partner of government relations firm O’Donnell and Associates.
Given the Democratic supermajority in both the Senate and Assembly, O’Donnell said he didn’t expect Cuomo to be impeached any time soon. And he noted even if his emergency pandemic powers were to be taken away, the governor would still hold a lot of sway.
“Even if they take away the governor’s emergency powers, we have a system where the governor has a lot of say and has even more say going into the budget process,” O’Donnell said.
On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, a North Tonawanda Republican, sent a letter to New York State Attorney General Tish James asking her to broaden the scope of her investigation into COVID-19 in nursing homes.
“I am requesting an extensive, immediate review of all available transcripts, recordings, and related materials involving the meeting of February 10 that was held between Members of the Senate and Assembly Majorities and top staff members from the Cuomo Administration,” Ortt wrote.
In a report released in late January by James’ office, the administration was called out for undercounting coronavirus-related nursing home deaths in publicized data. At the time, the New York State Department of Health was only publicly reporting the number of nursing home residents who died from COVID-19 in those facilities, and not those who died after being transferred to a hospital.
More than 13,000 nursing home residents in New York State have died from COVID-19. The attorney general’s report noted the attorney general’s office was conducting ongoing investigations into more than 20 facilities.
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of his work here.