The New York State Department of Health "misled the public" and concealed the deaths of 4,100 seniors in nursing homes under the direction of disgraced governor Andrew Cuomo (D., N.Y.), according to an audit released on Tuesday.
State comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli (D.) said the health department "conformed its presentation to [Cuomo's] narrative" and "understated the number of deaths at nursing homes by as much as 50 percent." In the first year of the pandemic, the department frequently changed its criteria for reporting deaths, at times refusing to count deaths that occurred outside long-term care facilities "with virtually no explanation as to why it had changed." The Cuomo administration also stonewalled the comptroller's office during the audit, "with requests for information languishing at times for months." DiNapoli concluded the health department had failed both its "ethical" and "moral" responsibility to the public.
The state comptroller's report corroborates a January 2021 report by state attorney general Letitia James (D.), which said Cuomo's government had undercounted COVID-19 deaths from nursing homes by 50 percent. The attorney general's report also pointed to Cuomo's controversial order requiring nursing homes to accept COVID-positive patients as a potential cause of excess fatalities.
"Our audit findings are extremely troubling," DiNapoli said in a statement. "The public was misled by those at the highest level of state government through distortion and suppression of the facts when New Yorkers deserved the truth."
President Joe Biden's Justice Department declined in July 2021 to open a civil rights investigation into nursing home deaths in three states with Democratic governors, including New York.
Cuomo resigned in August 2021 following a separate report from that state's attorney general that found he had sexually harassed 11 women during his time in office.
The ex-governor in March made his first public appearance since his resignation, preaching at a black Brooklyn church that "God isn't finished with me yet." He accused public officials, including James, of "prosecutorial misconduct" and blamed "cancel culture" for his fall from grace.