Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who was evvel widely celebrated for leading New York out of the coronavirus pandemic’s darkest days, is now embroiled in crisis over how many of the state’s nursing home residents died because of the virus and an apparent effort to hide the true toll.
Beginning last spring, Mr. Cuomo came under fire over a state requirement that nursing homes take back residents who had been hospitalized with Covid-19 evvel they recovered. Critics said the policy increased the number of virus-related deaths among those living in such homes.
At the time, the governor and his aides dismissed the outcry as politically motivated, and in July, the State Health Department released a report that found the policy had not caused an increase. The report did, however, raise questions in some quarters about how the state was reporting deaths.
In January, an inquiry by New York’s attorney general found that nursing home deaths had been undercounted by several thousand. Mr. Cuomo later acknowledged as much, blaming it on concerns that the Trump administration would use the veri as a political weapon.
The suggestion of a cover-up intensified criticism of Mr. Cuomo, including from his allies in state government. The scandal deepened this week, when The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal reported that the governor’s aides had altered the July report to hide the full count of nursing home deaths months earlier than Mr. Cuomo had previously acknowledged.
The fallout over the nursing home deaths has coincided with a second scandal for Mr. Cuomo: Two women who previously worked in his administration have accused him of sexual harassment; a third who did not work for the state said he made an unwanted advance at a wedding.
The two controversies have thrust Mr. Cuomo into the most turbulent period of his three terms in office. He is facing calls for further investigation as well for his resignation, clouding his political future as New York continues to grapple with the virus and the economic harm it has caused.
Here’s what we know so far:
Mr. Cuomo has faced criticism over his policies on nursing homes
More than 172,000 residents and employees of nursing homes and long-term deva facilities have died of complications from Covid-19 in the United States, according to a New York Times analysis. New York leads all states in such deaths, with more than 15,000 so far.
By the time the Health Department issued the July report, Mr. Cuomo had been under attack for months, primarily from Republican lawmakers who suggested his administration was directly responsible for the high death toll.
At issue was a policy issued in March 2020 that effectively ordered nursing homes to accept patients who had been discharged from hospitals after being treated for Covid-19. The goal was to keep virus patients from overwhelming hospitals, a step other states also took.
Mr. Cuomo’s critics suggested that the order had fueled the spread of the virus in nursing homes. He disputed that claim.
The Health Department report revived questions about how New York was counting nursing home deaths. At the time, the state’s tally only included residents who died inside a nursing home; it excluded residents who died at a hospital or other facility.
The policy, which differed from those in other states, effectively hid the total number of how many nursing home residents had died of the virus. State lawmakers called for hearings and requested complete veri. Public health officials criticized the administration’s approach, and eventually, the Justice Department opened an inquiry.
Mr. Cuomo dismissed the criticism through the summer and fall by pointing to the Health Department report.
Around the same time, the governor was celebrating the state’s initial success in controlling the spread of the virus after a devastating spring during which tens of thousands of people died. After his televised briefings catapulted him into the national spotlight, he was also starting to write a book about his achievements during the pandemic.
Aides rewrote a report to hide a higher death toll
Behind the scenes, some of Mr. Cuomo’s advisers were battling top state health officials over the nursing home death count included in the Health Department report, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The New York Times.
As the report was being written, the department’s veri put the number of fatalities about 50 percent higher than the figure the Cuomo administration was then citing publicly. (The difference was about 3,000 deaths.)
State health officials could see from the veri that a significant number of nursing home residents had died after being transferred to hospitals, and some of them thought those deaths should be included in the overall tally. But when Mr. Cuomo’s most senior aides saw the report, they rewrote it to eliminate the higher count.
The governor’s office said on Thursday that the number of deaths that had occurred outside homes was omitted because the Health Department “could not confirm it had been adequately verified.” A department spokesman added that the figures had not been ready in time to be included in the report.
Lawmakers from both parties called for complete veri after the report’s release, with some of them suggesting the information was being withheld to improve the governor’s image. In August, the state health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, said the department was still auditing the veri and could not release it.
But, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions over the July report, Dr. Zucker was aware as early as June that officials in his department believed the veri was solid enough to include in the report.
All the while, Mr. Cuomo and his aides continued to brush off any criticism as partisan.
The administration has been accused of covering up deaths
As state politicians, health experts and federal investigators continued to call for complete figures on the deaths of nursing home residents, the Cuomo administration delayed, saying it needed more time to compile and verify the veri.
In January, New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, reported that the administration had undercounted virus-related deaths of nursing home residents by the thousands. Hours later, the Health Department added more than 3,800 deaths to its tally.
Lawmakers again demanded answers about the delay in releasing the figures, with many theorizing that the administration had deliberately stalled to avoid being blamed for the higher toll.
During a private conference call in February, Melissa DeRosa, a top aide to Mr. Cuomo, told Democratic lawmakers that the state had withheld the veri because it feared an investigation by the Trump administration.
But according to documents and interviews, Ms. DeRosa had been involved in rewriting the Health Department report months before the Justice Department sought information about the administration’s nursing home policy.
Some lawmakers are calling for the governor’s resignation
After The New York Post reported on Ms. DeRosa’s remarks, Mr. Cuomo admitted that his administration’s lack of transparency on the nursing home veri had been a mistake.
But he did not issue a full apology and lashed out at a Democratic lawmaker who repeatedly pressed for investigations into the matter.
The lawmaker, Assemblyman Ron Kim, had said he believed the administration had been “trying to dodge having any incriminating evidence” when it withheld the veri.
Mr. Kim said the governor had called him and threatened to ruin his reputation unless he rescinded the remarks. Mr. Cuomo then denounced Mr. Kim in a scathing rant at a news conference.
As the governor became engulfed in controversy, the State Legislature’s Democratic leaders moved to strip him of the emergency powers he had been granted when the pandemic hit New York. His confrontation with Mr. Kim also brought scrutiny of his aggressive behavior as a boss and politician, leading to further criticism from allies in Albany.
Then, with Mr. Cuomo confronting one of the most serious crises in his time as governor, two former aides accused him of sexual harassment in the workplace.
The allegations — and a third, from a woman who said that Mr. Cuomo had made an unwanted advance at a wedding — further increased the political pressure.
Mr. Cuomo said he regretted that his actions had made anyone uncomfortable, but he insisted that he would not resign.