Brooklyn federal prosecutors are investigating an attempt by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration to enact broad protections for nursing homes from prosecution and criminal prosecution at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, people familiar with the matter say .
Nursing homes were included in a provision granting immunity from liability to doctors, hospitals and their executives, as well as healthcare workers on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak last spring, surprising some lawmakers and health officials. The wording for the provision comes from Mr. Cuomo’s office and was presented to state lawmakers in the final drafts of the state’s $ 178 billion budget, according to lawmakers and lawmakers.
Prosecutors are also examining the state’s handling of nursing home death data, including a public report in July on the factors that led the virus to spread through the facilities, the Wall Street previously reported. Newspaper.
Prosecutors have subpoenaed a range of information from the governor’s office regarding retirement homes, according to a person familiar with the summons.
State lawmakers have criticized the Cuomo administration for delaying the release of a more comprehensive count of retirement home deaths. More than 15,000 nursing home residents have died from Covid-19 in New York City, according to state health department records. Officials said the tapes were released as soon as their accuracy was confirmed.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn declined to comment.
Rich Azzopardi, senior advisor to Mr Cuomo, said New York was one of many states that also adopted forms of liability immunity for workers and healthcare facilities.
The nursing home investigation added to the pressure Mr. Cuomo is under over allegations of sexual harassment. Three former collaborators and a current employee of the Executive Chamber accused the governor of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior. Attorney General Letitia James is overseeing an investigation into the allegations. Democrats and Republicans have called on Mr. Cuomo to resign or be impeached.
Mr Cuomo said he did not touch anyone inappropriately and apologized if his personal interactions with staff made anyone uncomfortable. He said he would cooperate with the harassment investigation.
“In order to fight this unprecedented pandemic, we had to realign our entire healthcare system using every type of facility to prepare for the outbreak, and in New York, we recruited over 96,000 volunteers, including 25,000 from out of state, ”Azzopardi said. in a report. “This was passed by 111 members of the Legislative Assembly and if we had not done so, these volunteers would not have been accepted and we would never have had enough frontline health workers.
In a January report, the New York State Attorney General’s Office said the immunity provisions may have led some facilities to make financially motivated decisions. Financial incentives have prompted some for-profit owners to push staff to admit more Covid-19 patients to hospitals to meet admission targets, according to the report.
“It was a license to kill,” Senator Alessandra Biaggi, a Democrat from the Bronx, said of immunity.
When Ms Biaggi asked state health commissioner Howard Zucker about the immunity provision at a February budget hearing, Dr Zucker said he found the reviews “offensive enough to everyone who worked so hard on this pandemic ”.
“I don’t believe that the immunity that has been put in place is going to make anyone say, well, we’re just going to push for profit,” Dr. Zucker said. “I ask you to remember the situation we were in at that time. ”
Hospitals and nursing homes have said immunity offered essential protection in the early months of the pandemic, when they were forced to make good faith decisions about the allocation of care and resources.
The immunity provision was put in place at the end of March 2020 amid an increase in the number of coronavirus patients, a shortage of ventilators and a lack of personal protective equipment. The state health department issued a directive on March 25 that no nursing home could refuse to admit residents who had been hospitalized solely because they had tested positive for the coronavirus, in the aim to preserve the number of available hospital beds during a health crisis.
Nurses and doctors have been protected from allegations of malpractice by Covid-19 patients with a March 23 executive order, but healthcare groups like the Greater New York Hospital Association and LeadingAge New York have requested a broader immunity in the budget. Mr. Cuomo was in close contact in March with hospital officials and GNYHA officials, according to the governor’s official schedules.
The broader immunity provision that was passed protected nursing homes and hospitals from civil and criminal liability arising from the treatment of Covid-19 patients, and for harm to non-Covid-19 patients, the services were provided “in good faith”.
On April 2, GNYHA President Kenneth Raske wrote to members of his group that the association had drafted and actively championed the legislation. But hospital officials, who were working directly with Mr Cuomo’s lawyer and not with legislative leaders, did not ask for nursing homes to be included in the budget provision and were surprised to see them included. in the final language, according to a familiar person. with matter.
Some advocates of the retirement home industry were also surprised, said Michael Balboni, executive director of the Greater New York Health Care Facilities Association, a professional group of retirement homes.
“We were almost in constant contact with the state and the state health department on a variety of issues,” Mr. Balboni said. “He wasn’t one of them. ”
James Clyne Jr., president of LeadingAge New York, an association of nonprofit long-term care providers, said his group contacted the governor’s office and requested liability protection after the governor released its decree of March 23 protecting doctors and nurses.
“We thought it was important that nursing homes were included,” Clyne said.
Senior advisers to the Democratic leadership of the New York State Assembly and Senate were first alerted to the immunity push through an email from Beth Garvey, an attorney for Mr. Cuomo, according to a legislative officer. The email was sent in the early morning of March 28 and made extensive reference to “immunity to health care,” the official said, and did not include any potential legislative language.
The chairmen of the Assembly and Senate health committees, MP Richard Gottfried and Senator Gustavo Rivera, said the wording of the provision had been negotiated without their input.
Ms Biaggi said she only learned about the immunity provision on April 1 – the day a new state budget was due to be put in place. A Senate official told lawmakers the provision came from Mr Cuomo’s office, she said.
In May, the Cuomo administration rescinded the March 25 directive requiring nursing homes to accept previously hospitalized Covid-19 patients. The health ministry said in a July report that the policy was “not a significant factor in deaths in nursing homes” and attributed the spread of the virus to staff who introduced it to facilities.
In August, state lawmakers enacted a law that restricted the immunity provision to only care provided for Covid-19.
—Rebecca Davis O’Brien and Jacob Gershman contributed to this article.
Write to Corinne Ramey at [email protected], Jimmy Vielkind at [email protected] and Joe Palazzolo at [email protected]
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