By now, much of the world has seen New York's Emmy-award winning governor and "COVID-19 hero" Andrew Cuomo come under fire for New York's growing nursing home scandal. A March 25 directive forcing nursing homes to take in patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 led to the spread of the disease among New York's most vulnerable population. And then, to cover his tracks, the Governor may have obstructed justice by suppressing life and death data from the Department of Justice; his office underestimated the number of nursing home deaths by up to fifty percent.
These actions, which Cuomo's aid Melissa DeRosa admitted to in a call with Democratic lawmakers that I was on, implicated all of us in the governor's cover-up. It would be the first of multiple attempts to do so.
On a private phone call, the governor berated me, threatened my career, and demanded that I issue a fabricated statement. He wanted me to deny what I heard on the call. "Are you an honorable man?" He yelled. "Who do you think you are?" This, too, was an attempt to rope me into his scheme.
Those of us who have worked with Cuomo are familiar with his tendencies. There is a long pattern of abusive tactics that the governor deploys when the public gets too close to learning the truth: cast a net far and wide, compromise as many unwitting accomplices, threaten retribution, then berate you for having the temerity to stand up.
I call this Cuomo's Predatory Inclusion Syndrome. And I won't be party to it.
I witnessed a crime, and on top of that, 15,000 nursing home residents died under his watch. Restoring faith in government for those families is my top and only priority, not the governor's PR image.
The truth behind the obfuscation and lies is this: The governor snuck a toxic corporate immunity clause in the 2020 budget on behalf of his top campaign donor, the Greater New York Hospital Association. You don't need a PhD to understand that handing out get-out-of-jail-free cards to for-profit nursing homes in the middle of a pandemic will lead to more deaths.
He did it quietly and at the last minute, masking the provision under the guise of protecting frontline workers from lawsuits, which if true would have been redundant because he already passed a March 23 Executive Order that gave frontline workers legal immunity for treating COVID-19 patients. But once the lobbyists asked for a broader shield for the corporate executives and shareholders behind for-profit nursing homes and hospitals, Cuomo needed to implicate others.
On January 28th, New York State's Attorney General, Leticia James announced that the administration under-reported nursing home deaths by fifty percent. The corporate immunity very possibly led to more deaths at for-profit nursing homes, and has made it impossible to hold those responsible accountable.
With the truth out, the wheels started coming off the bus. The AG's report forced the Cuomo administration to finally meet with us. After seven months of stonewalling, his top aides wanted to discuss the "delay" in reporting nursing home data. Then the bombshell dropped, Melissa DeRosa admitted to withholding the numbers from the Department of Justice for political purposes, and we reached a point of no return: We had an ethical duty to stand up to this governor or become accomplices.
We cannot be numb to the fact that 15,000 people died in nursing homes under Governor Cuomo's watch. If the corporate immunity was omitted from the budget, how many lives would have been saved? Ten percent? Twenty percent? That is 1,500 to 3,000 families who could be sitting across from a loved one at dinner tonight. That's an entire 9/11 tragedy that we could have prevented.
We must hold the governor accountable and restore the integrity of the Senate and Assembly as co-equal branches of government. We must put all options on the table, in order to get to the truth.
It is time to be brave, to hold him accountable, to investigate his cover-up of nursing home information. It is time to undo the bad policies that led to unnecessary deaths. And it is time to start the impeachment process.
Ron Kim is the New York State Assembly representing the 40th District.