Congressman Tom Reed, a Southern Tier Republican, and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise are calling for an independent investigation of how five states, including New York, managed COVID patients and nursing homes as the coronavirus pandemic was growing. Governor Andrew Cuomo, they say, defied guidelines by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services when ordering nursing homes to take in patients who had tested positive for COVID-19.
More than 6,200 deaths in nursing homes are linked to COVID-19. Reed and Scalise wondered during a Thursday morning conference call whether that number was an undercount.
"We estimate, potentially, as many as twice the number of 6,200 of our grandparents were killed by Governor Cuomo's order, in early March, directing that those with coronavirus had to be put back into the nursing home setting," Reed said. "This is a complete failure of leadership. And I will tell you, it's even more egregious because we watch this in real time."
Not all the fatalities could be directly linked to COVID, the federal lawmakers conceded, because of how the state has counted its case numbers. But more than once, Scalise referred to Cuomo's order as his "deadly order," when criticizing Cuomo's order to admit COVID-positive seniors into nursing homes.
The governor has defended his actions, saying they came on the advice of federal health officials and experts who suggested keeping elderly COVID patients in hospitals for two weeks was less safe than putting them in nursing homes.
"First, you have the federal government that gave that guidance and then if you ask public health officials, all across the board, when a person, a senior citizen, no longer needs a hospital, is it intelligent and in that patient's interest to leave them in a hospital bed for two weeks, at a period of time where they're probably no longer contagious? They're just not yet testing negative," Cuomo said Wednesday. "They will say to you, it is highly risky to leave that person in a hospital bed for two weeks, while COVID is raging and they are susceptible, because the likelihood of negative consequences to them is much much higher if they stay in a hospital bed, and they will say, a nursing home is a better environment."
But that is provided the nursing home can provide an adequate and safe space that separates COVID-infected patients from the broader residential population. Reed and Scalise also say the five states where infections and fatalities surged in nursing home are those led by governors who defied CMS guidelines.
"The governor is the regulator for nursing homes," Scalise said. "The federal government can give guidance, as you're seeing from the president through Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx and others, they give guidance to states even on Phase One, Phase Two. Each state had their own reopening plan because states are the ones most in charge and know their populations. But the state, in this case, is the regulator for nursing homes, and the governor issued the guidance."
Cuomo, however, suggested the criticism is partisan in nature.
"It's not a coincidence that this is primarily an argument put forth by Republicans. That is a factual statement. You look at the congressional members that put it forward. They are Republican congressional members," the governor said.
"And here's the fact. We followed federal (Centers for Disease Control) guidance. If they want to start with an analysis in retrospect, start with the first fact. Why did the federal government give that guidance to states? That's the only relevant question."
Reed countered that the governor is being dishonest.
"Independent fact checkers have come back and said that is a false statement by the governor on this situation," he said. "Accountability and justice demands that he be held accountable for that decision."