Why Andrew Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes is a scandal

Why Andrew Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes is a scandal


ALBANY — Often I use part of my wonderful weekly newsletter to respond to your questions and emails. But in what can only be described as an unforgivable dereliction of civic responsibility, many of you don’t subscribe to it.

And so, with an empty notebook and a deadline looming, I’m going to show you what you’re missing by turning the highly valuable space below over to your comments and questions, intermixed with what will surely be witty and wise responses from your favorite columnist. Ready?

OK, the first question came after I took Saratoga Springs Assistant Chief John Catone to task for suggesting that criticism of his police department is responsible for an apparent uptick in crime in the city and for his vow to “stop your narrative.” Americans have the right to criticize their government, I wrote, and police in a free country don’t prevent speech.

To which, Chuck in Wilton replied: “You think it’s just bad timing that there is the largest fight in 10 years in Saratoga right after the Black Lives Matter activists have spent a year calling the police racists?”

Yes, I do. Or, I at least don’t see much in the way of evidence connecting the two. Violence on Caroline Street was happening before Black Lives Matter, and I suspect people brawl outside bars because they’re drunk and belligerent, not because they have the words of activists swirling around in their heads.

I know it’s popular in some circles to blame the national rise in violent crime on last year’s protests. But, again, I’m just not convinced that’s the reason, and I suspect the dramatic dislocation and frustration spawned by COVID-19 is among the more likely culprits. Moreover, blaming the words of some for the bad behavior of others is often just an attempt to shut people up.

OK, next question. Albert Marvell in Scotia wrote: “Why isn’t the chief allowed a little emotion when giving his view, and an honest assessment of the reason there is a crime hike in Saratoga?” (By the way, I’m editing these emails for brevity and clarity.)

I have no problem whatsoever with Catone’s obvious emotion during the press conference when he made his controversial comments. In fact, I appreciated that he’s so visibly bothered by what’s happening out there. We need more of that from public officials, I think.

Catone also has every right to give his honest assessment, just as you and I have the right to disagree with him. But the assistant chief also promised to stop disagreement. Put it this way: If Joe Biden said he was going to stop criticism of the IRS because it leads people to cheat on their taxes, I would hope for outrage. Criticizing the government, even in ugly and unfair ways, is as American as apple pie and watery beer. 

Albert went on to say the media is “pushing the narrative of defund the police,” while John Santangelo of Saratoga Springs, in response to my column about U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik’s rather low rating from the National Association of Police Organizations, said it was “sad to see you drink the media Kool Aid.” (But it’s so delicious!)

John also wrote: “Anyone who has been even partially paying attention over the past couple of years knows that ‘Republicans are for defunding the police’ is laughable on its face. The anti-police message is polling badly so proponents are trying to pin the message on the opposition. Simple politics.”

I never said Republicans are for defunding the police. I simply pointed out that, contrary to Stefanik’s claims, most Democrats are also against what is obviously a nutty idea and that her poor NAPO scorecard suggests the debate over who supports the police is more nuanced than she (and many other politicians) would have you believe.

On another topic, Janice in Troy thinks I’m too hard on Andrew Cuomo, particularly on the topic of nursing homes. She writes:

“I have a question, not just for you, but for everyone who has faulted him for his role in the nursing home ‘scandal’: Where were those with COVID-19 supposed to go? They certainly couldn’t stay indefinitely in hospitals — rooms there were in short supply, if you recall … For a long time, I’ve haven’t understood this scenario.”

Janice is referring to the controversial Department of Health order, issued on March 25 last year, which required nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients and forbid even testing them. Studies have concluded that the order contributed to deaths

First, I’d note that downstate COVID-19 patients could have been moved to the hospital built inside the Javits Center, which sat underutilized even when the pandemic was most severe. But I’ve also written that the order may have seemed justifiable at the time, given the extreme circumstances state officials were fearing for the apex of the crisis.

But it was wrong, certainly, to ignore the concerns nursing homes expressed about accepting the patients. It was wrong not to abandon the mandate sooner as its consequences became clear. 

And it was downright deplorable for Cuomo to subsequently hide the full number of nursing home deaths. The cover-up amplified the original error, and it suggested Cuomo himself thought that the order was a mistake grave enough to damage his reputation.

Don’t forget the $5.1 million book deal, which the governor may have been trying to protect when he hid the toll in nursing homes, along with the scrubbing of honest fatality data from a state report, the immunity from lawsuits granted to nursing home owners, the stonewalling of the Legislature and the threats to destroy critics of the policy.

All and all, it really is a scandal worthy of the ongoing federal investigation — and an indictment of the governor’s character.

Hey look, I’ve reached the end of my allotted space. A big thank you, as always, to those of you who take the time to write. I  read every email to the end.

Oh, before I forget: If you want to subscribe to the newsletter, you do so at https://www.timesunion.com/newsletters/churchill/.

cchurchill@timesunion.com ■ 518-454-5442 ■ @chris_churchill

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