(The Center Square) – Three Republican state lawmakers from New York announced on Wednesday the creation of a petition campaign that calls on their Democratic colleagues to push legislation that would create an independent investigation behind the COVID-19-related nursing home deaths across the state.
State Sens. Jim Tedisco and Daphne Jordan were joined by Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston, at the state Capitol in Albany on Wednesday for the announcement. The three are among the bipartisan sponsors of a bill that would empanel a temporary commission that would have subpoena power to learn more about what happened in the state-licensed nursing homes during the pandemic.
The decision by the Cuomo administration to force nursing homes to admit COVID-19 positive patients into their facilities at the beginning of the crisis has been one that’s been questioned by state lawmakers and federal authorities.
Shortly after that decision, the number of coronavirus deaths in the state skyrocketed.
Last month, the Senate and Assembly held a joint Health, Oversight and Aging Committee hearing on the issue and lawmakers from both parties grilled Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker on the policy, which was eventually lifted in May.
“We’ve had hearings, and my legislative colleagues and I have repeatedly asked Commissioner Zucker for the real number of New Yorkers who lost their lives in our nursing homes and we’ve gotten no answers,” said Tedisco, R-Glenville. “We’re launching this petition drive to harness the power of the citizenry to pressure the majorities to bring forward bi-partisan legislation for an independent investigation to subpoena the Health Department so we can provide a measure of closure to the loved ones of those who died and prevent this from happening again.”
In addition, the U.S. Justice Department and Congress have requested information from New York and three other states about COVID-19 deaths that took place in public nursing homes.
The administration has produced its own report claiming that the spike in nursing home deaths was due to employees and visitors bringing the virus into the facilities and not the admission of infected patients. State officials have also said the number of nursing home deaths has been about 6,000, although that total has been repeatedly questioned by critics.
Lawmakers said they want the answers because as fall arrives, they fear a second wave of the virus hitting the state.
“The fight against COVID-19 requires real data to ensure the best possible, most informed policy decisions that can help protect vulnerable New Yorkers,” said Jordan, R-Halfmoon. “That’s why it’s so important that we have an independent investigation to obtain the true numbers of the tragic nursing home deaths related to COVID.”