Top advisors to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened to fine or revoke the licenses of nursing home administrators for alleged malpractice regarding COVID-19 vaccinations based on data that, officials claim, turned out to be inaccurate, according to a report on Monday.
The incident occurred during a “heated emergency call” between New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, Cuomo’s special counsel Beth Garvey and officials from state nursing home associations, the New York Post reported. During the call, Zucker and Garvey allegedly took the officials to task because data showed that hundreds of institutions had failed to secure shipments of COVID-19 vaccines they had previously requested.
“What are my options here?” Zucker said in a recording of the meeting obtained by the Post. “There’s the option of fines. There’s the option of enforcement. There’s the option of shaming everyone and saying, ‘I can’t believe the people aren’t doing this.’”
“I’m not trying to be difficult with all of you,” Zucker added. “But the bottom line is, these are residents of these nursing homes and there are vaccines put aside for them, and the nursing home administrators need to pick them up and get them into the arms of those residents, and the staff as well. Anything shy of that is just irresponsible.”
Garvey said it was “absolute malpractice” that facilities had not picked up their vaccine shipments and added that “each and every medical director at these facilities should feel personal jeopardy for their medical licenses.”
“Every option is on the table, as far as issuing emergency regs, issuing fines and penalties,” she added. “We have literally bent over backwards to try to see if the nursing homes would do the right thing. I think our only recourse at this point is to try to clean it up, because we have liability.”
Sources who participated in the call told the Post that Zucker and Garvey based their criticism on state data that mispresented the situation.
Some nursing home representatives said they submitted required data about the number of unvaccinated residents or staffers at their facilities, but did not intend for the state to set aside vaccine doses. Others said they obtained vaccines from other partners or did not require the state supply.
NY State Department of Health Spokesperson Gary Holmes pushed back on the report’s characterization of the call. State officials, including Zucker, have made repeated efforts to contact nursing homes about stepping up their vaccination efforts in recent weeks, he said.
“The reality is some nursing homes are still failing to protect New Yorkers. Here are the facts: after the federal nursing home vaccination program ended, the state made clear to nursing homes that they had an obligation to vaccinate residents and staff going forward and offered to set aside specific allocations for them,” Holmes said.
“We made repeated calls, determined if they could do shots themselves or needed a third-party provider, and have asked them daily for 6.5 weeks how many doses they need,” he added. “For some inexplicable reason, hundreds of nursing homes are letting vaccine doses sit on shelves — these failures border on malpractice, which is why we’ve deputized regional hub hospitals to pick up the slack.”
The Cuomo administration has faced intense scrutiny in recent months of a statewide COVID-19 crisis at nursing homes. Earlier this year, New York State Attorney General Letitia James’ office released findings that Cuomo’s team significantly underreported the number of COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes.
Critics have targeted Cuomo over his March 25 order directing nursing homes to accept recovering COVID-19 patients, arguing the decision may have exacerbated the virus’ spread. Cuomo has denied withholding data related to nursing home deaths and rejected claims that his order worsened the situation.
Federal prosecutors are currently investigating how top officials within the Cuomo administration handled the nursing home crisis. To date, neither Cuomo nor any official has been charged with wrongdoing.
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Earlier this month, multiple outlets reported that Cuomo directed state health officials to prioritize his own family for COVID-19 testing in the early days of the pandemic. Cuomo’s team has denied wrongdoing.
The governor has faced calls to resign in recent weeks over his handling of the pandemic, as well as claims from nine women who have accused Cuomo of sexual harassment or misconduct. Cuomo has maintained that he will not step down from office.
This story has been updated.