Byrne, Assembly, Senate Minority Conferences & Families Call for Further Investigations in Wake of Attorney General’s Nursing Home Report

Assemblyman Kevin Byrne (R,C,I,SAM,ROS-Mahopac) joined leaders of the Assembly and Senate Minority Conferences, joined by Janice Dean and a Capital Region family, today renewed their call for legislative hearings and federal investigations in the wake of Attorney General Letitia James’ scathing report on the Cuomo Administration’s response to COVID-19 in nursing homes. The findings indicated the New York State Department of Health (DOH) undercounted nursing home deaths by as much as 50 percent. View the full press conference here.

“After months of demanding answers from the governor’s office and the state Department of Health, we are just now getting a better picture of the devastation that occurred in nursing homes this past year,” said Byrne. “The recent report released by the attorney general’s office exposed what the 2nd Floor has tried to ignore for over six months. We’ve held bipartisan hearings, forums and appealed to various government representatives in our efforts to obtain the unvarnished truth. While the AG’s report validated the concerns, we’ve expressed for the better part of a year, even the AG’s report did not include all the nursing home information requested. The AG’s report only strengthens our calls for an independent investigation into the state’s response to COVID-19 in our elder-care facilities, including the decision to implement the controversial March 25 directive. We need all the facts, and any effort to willfully cover up wrongdoing that may have led to additional harm and death in our state’s nursing homes must be exposed. Only then can we hold people accountable and give families that lost loved ones the answers and justice they so desperately seek. Gov. Cuomo and his surrogates can try to paint this effort as ‘political’, but the demand for answers has been anything but. People of all parties, backgrounds and cultures have been impacted by this deadly virus. We will not stop until we have real answers for these grieving families.”

For months, Gov. Cuomo and DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker failed to disclose the true number of nursing home residents who died from COVID-19. Last week, the attorney general’s office reported that the March 25 directive requiring nursing homes accept COVID-positive patients was, in fact, a contributing factor in the spread of the disease in these facilities. Only after the attorney general released the findings of her investigation did the DOH report that nearly 13,000 nursing home residents lost their lives during the pandemic.

Minority Conferences are calling on their majority colleagues to issue subpoenas compelling administration officials to appear and testify at legislative hearings, and for the Legislature to rescind the emergency powers granted to the governor at the onset of the pandemic. The Assembly Minority Conference recently sent a letter to the members of the Aging, Health and Investigations Committees requesting, again, they take the necessary steps to help unearth relevant documentation into the state’s pandemic response. A full copy of the letter is available here.

“After months of demanding answers from the governor’s office and the state department of health, we are just now getting a better picture of the devastation that occurred in nursing homes this past year,” said Assemblyman Kevin Byrne (R,C,I,SAM,ROS-Mahopac), ranking Minority Member on the Assembly Committee on Health. “The recent report released by the attorney general’s office exposed what the 2nd Floor has tried to ignore for over six months. We’ve held bipartisan hearings, forums and appealed to various government representatives in our efforts to obtain the unvarnished truth. While the AG’s report validated the concerns, we’ve expressed for the better part of a year, even the AG’s report did not include all the nursing home information requested. The AG’s report only strengthens our calls for an independent investigation into the state’s response to COVID-19 in our elder-care facilities, including the decision to implement the controversial March 25 directive. We need all the facts, and any effort to willfully cover up wrongdoing that may have led to additional harm and death in our state’s nursing homes must be exposed. Only then can we hold people accountable and give families that lost loved ones the answers and justice they so desperately seek. Gov. Cuomo and his surrogates can try to paint this effort as ‘political’, but the demand for answers has been anything but. People of all parties, backgrounds and cultures have been impacted by this deadly virus. We will not stop until we have real answers for these grieving families.”

“The attorney general’s bombshell report is the first step to finally getting some answers for the thousands of families who lost loved ones in the state’s nursing homes,” said Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R,C,I-Pulaski). “The administration must take full responsibility for the role the March 25 directive played in the spread of the virus in these facilities and admit their culpability. I stand by my colleagues and demand a thorough and comprehensive investigation — the people of New York deserve full transparency. Today, we say, ‘enough is enough’. It is time the governor’s emergency powers are rescinded. The welfare of the state can no longer be left in the hands of one man; legislative oversight must be restored.”

“The Department of Health has betrayed the public trust in the middle of the worst public health crisis we have faced in a generation. The first step to repair that trust is the resignation of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. The attorney general’s report was just the tip of the iceberg—this is just the beginning of what I think should be a thorough investigation into the actions of Gov. Cuomo and his entire administration. I am proud to stand with my Senate Conference and colleagues in the Assembly to call for an investigation and an end to the governor’s emergency powers, and I hope our democratic colleagues get serious and join us,” said Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt (R-Tonawanda)

“The Senate Majority has the power to get the answers so many grieving families are after, but to date, they have chosen not to use it,” said Senator Sue Serino, ranking Minority Member on the Senate’s Aging Committee. “With real lives on the line, the attorney general’s report makes it painfully clear that we absolutely cannot afford to wait another day—let alone weeks—for the health commissioner to be ready to appear before us at a budget hearing. When you have the power to make a difference, it is not enough to say you will ‘consider’ the issuance of a subpoena, or the holding of a hearing, you have to set politics aside, do what is right and take action. We will not stop pushing until New Yorkers get the answers they deserve.”

Janice Dean, an outspoken voice for justice for grieving New York families, said, “Our families have been waiting for almost a year for answers as to why our loved ones were put in harms’ way without warning and why our governor has done everything he can to cover up his deadly mistakes. We deserve answers for our families and to ensure this never happens again to anyone else’s family.”

Ted Minissale, Phil Minissale and Cindy Lizzi, Capital Region residents whose mother, Agnes Minissale, passed away from COVID-19 in April, offered the following, “Our family has suffered tremendous loss, and since our mother, Agnes, passed away, we have waited for the truth to come out. So many families have gone through this – losing a loved one because questionable decisions were made that put patients in danger and impacted people’s lives. A lot of people need to own their mistakes, and there needs to be accountability for the families, like ours, who have lost so much.”