Republican Leaders Renew Request for Hearing on New York Nursing Home Deaths, Data Cover-Up

March 5, 2021 — Blog    — Coronavirus Bulletin    — Correspondence    — Health    — Oversight    — Press Releases   

WASHINGTON, DC – With new revelations that political aides to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo deliberately interfered with state public health officials in order to mask the true magnitude of COVID-19 nursing home deaths in the state, Republican Congressional leaders urged their House Democrat counterparts to hold a joint hearing regarding the undercounting of COVID-19 deaths in New York nursing homes.

The letter was signed by Republican Whip and Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Ranking Member Steve Scalise (R-LA), Ways and Means Republican Leader Kevin Brady (R-TX), Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Republican Leader Devin Nunes (R-CA), Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY), Energy and Commerce Republican Leader Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee Republican Leader Brett Guthrie (R-KY), and Oversight and Reform Committee Republican Leader James Comer (R-KY). The revelations appeared in reporting by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times late on March 4, 2020.

“Given this timeline and publicly available information — which seems to confirm that a politically-driven data cover-up occurred — and the oversight authority entrusted to you as Democrat leaders of the relevant committees, it is unclear what more the majority needs to know in order to deploy all the tools at your disposal, including hearings and subpoenas, to determine if Governor Cuomo’s administration deliberately provided false data to the federal government and the public.” said the Republican leaders.

A copy of the letter can be found here. The text and further background is below.

Key Facts:

  • March 2020
    • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued disastrous directives that knowingly sent thousands of COVID-19 positive patients back into nursing homes across the state, spreading the virus and killing thousands of New York’s parents and grandparents.
  • June 2020
    • The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis held a public briefing titled “The Devastating Impact of The Coronavirus Crisis in America’s Nursing Homes.” Republicans requested Chairman Clyburn join an investigation into Governor Cuomo’s lethal directive and he declined.
    • Select Subcommittee Republicans sent a letter to Governor Cuomo requesting communications and data about his lethal order that violated CDC and CMS nursing home guidance and directed COVID-19 positive patients into the nursing home. Democrats refused to join this effort. Governor Cuomo ignored the request.
    • Select Subcommittee Republicans sent letters to Democrat New York Attorney General Letitia James requesting an investigation of Governor Cuomo’s lethal directive. Although AG James did not directly respond to Republicans’ request, the pressure from Select Subcommittee Republicans and others resulted in her launching an investigation.
  • July 2020
    • According to recent reports, Governor Cuomo’s office rewrote a critical health department report to hide the true nursing home death data from the world.
    • Select Subcommittee Republicans sent a letter to Governor Cuomo dismantling his sham report, which passed the blame for the COVID-19 crisis in nursing homes to the front-line health care workers. Additionally, Republicans requested communications and data about his lethal order. Governor Cuomo ignored this request.
  • January 2021
    • The New York State Office of the Attorney General issued a scathing report stating that nursing home deaths had been undercounted by “approximately 50 percent” and that the Governor’s mandates “[m]ay have contributed to increased risk or nursing home resident infection, and subsequent fatalities…” The death toll has now risen to approximately 15,000 souls.
    • Select Subcommittee Republicans sent a letter to Governor Cuomo highlighting the bombshell report from Democrat NY AG James and again requesting communications and data about his lethal order. Governor Cuomo ignored this request.
  • February 2021
    • Governor Cuomo’s top aide then admitted that numbers were not accurately reported out of fear that the accurate numbers would be “used against us by federal prosecutors.”
    • Oversight and Reform Committee Republicans called on Chairwoman Maloney to issue subpoenas for Governor Cuomo’s sworn testimony and for all documents and communications Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Republicans have requested repeatedly from Governor Cuomo related to his order.
    • Ways and Means Committee Democrats refused a request for a bipartisan hearing on the issue.
    • Ways and Means Committee Democrats rejected a proposal offered by Rep. Reed to hold governors accountable and get answers for nursing home residents and their families by requiring governors to attest that their states have been reporting accurate nursing home data and that they would continue to report accurate data moving forward.
    • Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee blocked an amendment for more transparency and accountability in COVID-19 nursing home deaths.

 

March 5, 2021

Chairman Richard Neal
Committee on Ways and Means

Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

Chairman Frank Pallone
Committee on Energy and Commerce

Chairman James Clyburn
Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis

 

Dear Chairs Neal, Maloney, Pallone and Clyburn,

 

Given news reports that political aides to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo deliberately interfered with the work of state public health officials in order to mask the true magnitude of COVID-19 nursing home deaths in the state, we write again to request you schedule a joint hearing before the committees on this issue in the next 15 days.  Specifically, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reported top aides to Governor Cuomo—none of whom have any health care experience—including Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, doctored a report on COVID-19 in nursing homes to intentionally conceal the true number of nursing home fatalities in New York and shield themselves, including Governor Cuomo, from any wrongdoing attributable to the March 25, 2020 “must admit” order.[1]

Congressional Republican leaders have made several hearing requests without response. Yet, despite the Democrat leaders’ abdication of their oversight responsibilities, more facts have emerged from Albany via the national press.

On March 4, 2021, the Wall Street Journal reported, “New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top advisers successfully pushed state health officials to strip a public report of data showing that more nursing-home residents had died of Covid-19 than the administration had acknowledged, according to people with knowledge of the report’s production….”[2]

The New York Times likewise reported “[t]he extraordinary intervention, which came just as Mr. Cuomo was starting to write a book on his pandemic achievements, was the earliest act yet known in what critics have called a monthslong effort by the governor and his aides to obscure the full scope of nursing home deaths.”[3]

On June 15, 2020, the Republicans on the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis wrote Governor Cuomo requesting all documents and communications relating to the March 25 “must admit” order and nursing home fatalities. The apparent cover-up and data manipulation began shortly thereafter with the issuance of this doctored report.

Given this timeline and publicly available information — which seems to confirm that a politically-driven data cover-up occurred — and the oversight authority entrusted to you as Democrat leaders of the relevant committees, it is unclear what more the majority needs to know in order to deploy all the tools at your disposal, including hearings and subpoenas, to determine if Governor Cuomo’s administration deliberately provided false data to the federal government and the public.

A hearing examining what happened in New York is a necessary first step. Concerns surrounding state actions, COVID-19, nursing homes, and data integrity are not limited to New York. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has requested data from the governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Michigan, to determine “…if the state orders requiring admission of COVID-19 patients to nursing homes is responsible for the deaths of nursing home residents…. [T]he department is also investigating the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where COVID-19 has taken the lives of at least 76 residents.”[4]

Clearly there is bipartisan interest in making sure nursing home data, particularly related to COVID-19, is accurately reported. For instance, Chairman Neal has repeatedly stated his interest in the safety of those living in nursing homes.[5]We believe there is a congressional imperative to investigate a cover-up directed from the highest office of state government and executed to prop up the image of a governor in order to sell books during a pandemic.

We request transcribed interviews or depositions of, at a minimum, the following witnesses in advance of a hearing:

  • Eleanor Adams, the Special Advisor to the Commissioner at New York State
  • Howard Zucker, Commissioner of New York Department of Health
  • Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to the Governor
  • Linda Lacewell, Superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services
  • Jim Malatras, Chancellor of the State University of New York and a former policy adviser to Governor Cuomo
  • Any McKinsey & Company staff who worked on the report, including those who developed the chart comparing New York nursing home deaths with other states

Additionally, we request that you immediately issue a subpoena for the documents repeatedly requested by Select Subcommittee Ranking Member Scalise.[6] These requests are reiterated here for your ready reference:

  1. The total number of COVID-19 related nursing home deaths, including deaths that occurred at the nursing home and deaths of a registered nursing home patient at a hospital, by day between January 1, 2020 and present.
  2. All State issued guidance, directives, advisories, or executive orders regarding hospital discharges to nursing homes or any and all other types of assisted living facilities, including those previously superseded, in chronological order.
  3. All underlying information, documents, and research used by the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) to draft the July 6, 2020, report entitled “Factors Associated with Nursing Home Infections and Fatalities in New York State During the COVID-19 Global Health Crisis.”
  4. All information, documents, and communications between the Office of the Governor and the NYSDOH regarding COVID-19 mitigation in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, including but not limited to:
    1. All drafts of the report titled “Factors Associated with Nursing Home Infections and Fatalities in New York State during the COVID-19 Global Health Crisis;” and
    2. Any and all communications or correspondence between New York state officials discussing any draft or any edits of the report.
  5. All information, documents, and communications between the NYSDOH and any and all of the State’s Nursing Home Administrators relating to the implementation of any state COVID-19 guidance, particularly the March 25 “must-admit” order, the NYSDOH report, or the methodology for calculating COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.

 

Given the urgency of our request, the information emerging day by day through the press, and the continued desire of families to get answers, we ask you confirm the scheduling of a joint committee hearing examining the accuracy of New York’s nursing home COVID-19 deaths data reporting and the subsequent coverup by Tuesday, March 9, 2020. We look forward to a reply.

 

Sincerely,

Steve Scalise
Ranking Member
Select Subcommittee on the
Coronavirus Crisis

 

Kevin Brady
Republican Leader
Committee on Ways and Means

 

Cathy McMorris Rodgers
Republican Leader
Committee on Energy and Commerce

 

James Comer
Republican Leader
Committee on Oversight and Reform

Devin Nunes
Republican Leader
Subcommittee on Health
Committee on Ways and Means

Tom Reed
Committee on Ways and Means

Brett Guthrie
Republican Leader
Subcommittee on Health
Committee on Energy and Commerce

 

[1] Joe Palazzolo, et. al., Cuomo Advisors Altered Report on Covid-19 Nursing-Home Deaths, Wall St. J. (Mar. 4, 2021), https://www.wsj.com/articles/cuomo-advisers-altered-report-on-covid-19-nursing-home-deaths-11614910855; J. David Godman & Danny Hakim, Cuomo Aides Rewrote Nursing Home Report to Hide Higher Death Toll, N.Y. Times (Mar. 4, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/04/nyregion/cuomo-nursing-home-deaths.html.

[2] Id.

[3] Godman, supra note 1.

[4] Press Release, Department of Justice Requesting Data From Governors of States that Issued COVID-19 Orders that May Have Resulted in Deaths of Elderly Nursing Home Residents, U.S. Dep’t of Justice (Aug. 26, 2020), https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/department-justice-requesting-data-governors-states-issued-covid-19-orders-may-have-resulted.

[5] In an August 2020 letter to the then-Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Seema Verma, Chairman Neal wrote “[a]ccess to timely, robust, and reliable data is critical in understanding the magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis in nursing homes and appropriately allocating resources to the hardest hit facilities as well as those at greatest risk for outbreaks.”  In a July 2020 letter to Administrator Verma, Chairman Neal wrote there was a “…clear congressional imperative for nursing facility surveys and reliable data, as well as the concerns for families and patients around the country about long-term care facilities and COVID-19…” In a February 2021 letter to Acting Administrator Richter, Chairman Neal summarized concerns about data reporting in nursing homes writing, “[d]ata issues must be reconcilied to best inform public health officials responding to COVID-19 outbreaks.”

[6] Letter from Steve J. Scalise, et. al., Ranking Member, Select Subcomm. on the Coronavirus Crisis, H. Comm. on Oversight & Reform, to Andre M. Cuomo, Governor, N.Y. (June 15, 2020); Letter from Steve J. Scalise, Ranking Member, Select Subcomm. on the Coronavirus Crisis, H. Comm. on Oversight & Reform, to Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor, N.Y. (July 9, 2020); Letter from Steve J. Scalise, Ranking Member, Select Subcomm. on the Coronavirus Crisis, H. Comm. on Oversight & Reform, to Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor, N.Y. (Jan. 28, 2021); Letter from Steve J. Scalise, Ranking Member, Select Subcomm. on the Coronavirus Crisis, H. Comm. on Oversight & Reform, to Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor, N.Y. (Feb. 19, 2021).

 

SUBCOMMITTEE: Health    SUBCOMMITTEE: Oversight