As the spotlight has shifted to an ongoing investigation of alleged sexual harassment claims against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Queens Assemblyman Ron Kim is continuing to push for accountability in the administration’s handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes in New York state.
“Every time we get close to the truth, it seems like the governor is untouchable. How many more scandals? How many more women? How many more nursing home-related lies and frauds need to be exposed before we can hold him accountable?” Kim said during a virtual rally with advocates on Thursday, April 1.
Kim and advocates from Voices For Seniors, a nonprofit organization that improves the quality-of-life for elderly communities through grassroots initiatives and advocacy for protective legislation and reform, are demanding that Cuomo sign a bill into law repealing the corporate immunity shield that protected nursing home executives from liability during the pandemic. It would be fully repealed by the bill, which passed by a vote of 149-1 in the Assembly and 63-0 in the Senate. The bill will now head to the governor to be signed into law.
“We did our part and now it needs to be sent to the governor,” Kim said. “He has 10 days to decide, so let’s get it done so we can once and for all go back and give retroactive justice that many of our families have been neglected in the past months.”
Advocates are also demanding that New York State Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli, issue a referral to New York State Attorney General, Letitia James, to launch a joint investigation into the nursing home scandal.
In January, an eye-opening report released by the state Attorney General’s Office revealed nursing home deaths may have been undercounted by as much as 50 percent. Since March 2020, James’ office has been investigating nursing homes throughout New York state based on allegations of patient neglect and other concerning conduct that may have jeopardized the health and safety of residents and employees.
The state comptroller is one of two statewide elected officials who can issue such a referral — the other being the governor.
“He is the chief auditor monitoring any kind of misuses of public resources, staffing and misuse of state paper — the simplest things that we cannot do for personal profits or personal use, which the governor clearly did,” Kim said. “We want the comptroller to act now and not wait on our request anymore.”
As new details emerged on Wednesday, March 31, about Cuomo’s pandemic memoir, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” that came with an offer of $4 million, advocates criticized his leadership.
“Cuomo created an American crisis as a nursing home super spreader and he got paid well doing it earning $4 million dollars for his book,” said Tracy Alvino, whose 76-year-old father died of COVID in a nursing home in Long Island. “Was my father’s life worth $4 million? In my family, my father was priceless.”
For Alvino, April 16 will mark one year since the last time she saw her father, Daniel Alvino, who died at a nursing home in Long Island.
“He was only supposed to be in rehab for neck surgery for a couple of weeks, and sadly, my story is one of thousands,” Alvino said.
After losing their 78-year-old mother to COVID in a Long Island nursing home, Vivian Zayas and her sister Alexa Rivera started Voices For Seniors to pursue real change, so that “no senior citizen or family will have to endure the pain they did.”
Zayas said they are still fighting to get answers for the mass deaths of senior citizens in nursing facilities.
“Comptroller DiNapoli has the duty to over 15,000 families and the citizens of New York to investigate the relationship between Gov. Cuomo and the greater New York Hospital Association, who bragged about the unity provision as the gold standard in legal immunity,” Zayas said. “This ‘gold standard’ has led to the deaths of countless seniors, not just of COVID, but of neglect. As far as the gold standard, I would go as far as saying it is the evil standard.”
While the advocacy group has requested that the U.S. attorney and FBI investigate the governor’s office, Kim says there is still a lot that can be done at the state level.
“We are relying on the comptroller to activate his role as the chief auditor of the state of New York to hold this governor accountable, and let’s really get to the truth,” Kim said.