Watchdog group won’t drop Cuomo suit seeking COVID nursing home death count

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ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Health Department chief Dr. Howard Zucker will not be let off the hook for months of refusing to release the total number of nursing home fatalities due to coronavirus, a watchdog group vowed Friday.

The Empire Center for Public Policy plans to move forward with its lawsuit against the Cuomo administration despite the release of Attorney General Letitia James’ bombshell report on Thursday, which found the Health Department underreported the total virus-related deaths since March by nearly 50 percent — for a total around 13,000.

Zucker denied the report’s claims that they undercounted deaths and late Thursday released his own tally of nursing home resident deaths from March 1, 2020 to Jan. 19, 2021 totaling 12,743 combining confirmed and presumed COVID-19 fatalities in nursing homes and hospitals. 

“I don’t think anybody should consider this fight to be over,” Bill Hammond, the Empire Center’s senior fellow for health policy told The Post Friday.

“We asked for day-by-day numbers and also asked for facility by facility numbers. They used a day-by-day analysis from March and April to argue that the March 25th memo was not significant, but they were using their undercounted numbers. So, in order to check whether that analysis has validity, you need to have the day-by-day full count and we don’t have that still,” he said.

Hammond filed a Freedom of Information Law request on Aug. 3 asking for the total number of COVID-19 nursing home fatalities including those who died in nursing homes and those who became so sick they were transferred to hospitals and later died. 

The state DOH stopped reporting nursing home resident deaths in hospitals back in May, and the controversial state guidance issued March 25 banning facilities from testing individuals for the deadly virus upon admittance — which many critics cited as a key contributor to COVID-19 spread in nursing homes, was later rescinded.

After receiving multiple requests for extensions on the sought-after data — the DOH claimed the information was not yet complete so it could not be made available — Hammond sued the agency, and that lawsuit is pending in New York state Supreme Court. 

“The idea that the records are ‘not accurate’ as a valid reason for withholding them — that’s a really dangerous precedent for withholding them.”

“I am genuinely concerned that they can say ‘we can’t give you these records. That becomes an excuse to never give anybody anything. Giving us one day’s total doesn’t even come close to what we asked for.”

James’ report, meanwhile, has stoked fury from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, even prompting some to call for DOH Commissioner Howard Zucker to resign.

A rep for the DOH did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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