Former New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo shown at a...

Former New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo shown at a news conference in June 2021. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

WASHINGTON — Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is scheduled to testify Tuesday before a congressional panel investigating the COVID-19 pandemic, with his administration’s handling of nursing home deaths in New York expected to be a main focus for investigators.

Cuomo's testimony will occur behind closed doors, with attorneys for the Republican-led House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic expected to question him about a March 2020 state directive that blocked nursing homes from rejecting patients with COVID-19.

“Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo implemented nursing home policies that had deadly consequences for New York’s most vulnerable population,” Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), chairman of the subcommittee, said in a statement.

Cuomo asserted he was following federal guidelines. But many families of New Yorkers who died of COVID-19 while at senior living facilities have blamed Cuomo's directive for increasing the spread of the virus, as many facilities were unable to properly isolate virus-positive patients.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is scheduled to testify Tuesday before a congressional panel investigating the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Cuomo's testimony will occur behind closed doors, with attorneys expected to question him about a 2020 state directive that blocked nursing homes from rejecting patients with COVID-19.
  • Cuomo has asserted he was following federal guidelines. 

Asked about Cuomo’s expectations for the subcommittee interview, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi in a statement to Newsday described the panel’s investigation as a “craven partisan farce.”

Azzopardi continued: “For years they've been shamelessly weaponizing people’s pain.”

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island), the only New Yorker on the pandemic subcommittee, defended the panel’s work, saying “we’re just looking for the facts, and wherever they lead, they lead.”

“A lot of this is making sure that we get the answers for those families, we get accountability for those families, but that we also ensure it never happens again, and we learn from this experience,” Malliotakis said in an interview. “If we don't know how we got to certain decisions that were made during COVID, how do we learn from this horrific experience, and improve the response for a future pandemic?”

Malliotakis said she expects a transcript of Cuomo’s interview to be made public in the future. Malliotakis also said she expects Cuomo to be called to testify at a public hearing, although she did not have a time frame. The subcommittee expects to release a report with its findings eventually, Malliotakis said.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, said in a 2021 report that the state Department of Health underreported the number of nursing home COVID-19 deaths by about 50% by omitting deaths of nursing home residents who were transferred to hospitals. An audit by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in 2022 found the health department underreported 4,100 deaths between April 2020 and February 2021.

The Health Department issued updated fatality figures in February 2021, after James' report, reporting 13,197 confirmed and presumed COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents across New York from March 1, 2020 to Feb. 5, 2021.

Nancy Gertler, of Great Neck, whose 98-year-old mother, Florence, was among the COVID-19 fatalities at the Cold Spring Hills Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation in April 2020, told Newsday she still questions what led to the March directive and hopes the panel’s work leads to recommendations that prevent “this from happening again.”

Gertler continued: “I don’t understand why [Cuomo] would allow nursing homes with the most fragile patients … why he would force them to admit people with COVID. I think it’s horrifying. My mother was one of the first people to die in the nursing home that they actually said her death was from COVID-19.”

Cuomo’s former top aide, Melissa DeRosa, is scheduled to be interviewed by subcommittee investigators this month. Other Cuomo administration officials who have testified include former State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and Jim Malatras, the former Chancellor of the State University of New York, who served as a Cuomo senior adviser, Wenstrup said.

The panel heard testimony last week from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at a combative public hearing that underscored the partisan divide over the initial federal response to the pandemic. Fauci drew praise from Democrats for his work advising the Trump White House in the earliest days of the pandemic, but Republicans questioned whether Fauci sought to cover up competing theories about the origin of the virus.

A spokeswoman for the Democrats on the committee said in a statement to Newsday: “The Select Subcommittee Democrats take seriously any effort to evade transparency and mislead the public, and remain committed to the forward-looking work of fortifying infection control and prevention to protect America’s nursing home residents.”

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