This past Monday, more grieving New York family members who lost a loved one in a nursing home due to Covid-19, testified at the second of two hearings, “Joint Public Hearing: Residential health care facilities and COVID-19 Upstate New York,” convened by the Democrat-controlled NYS legislature. The purpose was to gather information about NYSDOH Commissioner Howard Zucker’s shocking March 25 edict which forced the placement of 6,326 Covid-19 infected hospital patients into nursing homes, resulting in massive numbers of senior citizen deaths.
- See August 3, 2020 testimony here
- See August 3, 2020 written testimony here
- See August 10, 2020 testimony here
- See August 10, 2020 written testimony here
New York has been a one-party controlled state since November 2018, a Democratic-progressive political trifecta. With NY Democrats doing their best work in secrecy, not only did the majority in both houses issue no press releases, they also hid the agenda from the public until a half hour before these hearings began, posting the full agenda only on the Assembly’s website, and burying the written submissions on the Senate’s website. Furthermore, a terse notice at both houses’ websites warned NY families to stay away: “Oral Testimony by Invitation Only.” According to last week’s testimony of state Senator Thomas O’Mara (R,C,IP) from the Finger Lakes district of upstate NY and ranking member of the Senate Investigations and Government Operations Committee, the Democratic majority denied the minority subpoena powers; the right to call witnesses; their July 15 written demand that the Dems subpoena both Cuomo, Zucker and others; and they didn’t send the witness list until the night before the hearings.
Janice Dean, a well-loved Fox News meteorologist and New Yorker whose family tragically lost both her husband’s parent’s due to Covid-19, made a request to testify at these hearings, stating on a recent upstate NY talk-radio interview, “I got word from the chair that they were going to allow me to speak and have my five minutes and talk about my in-laws.” She was, however, dis-invited! She says she received a generic email during the time of the hearings, which said something like, I’m sorry we couldn’t accommodate you due to time constraints. It was Republican Senator O’Mara, who tweeted out the real reason, “Assembly Health Cmte chair wrote, “I have been told that ‘The Senate is not comfortable including her on the witness list, so we will not be including her to testify.’”
Janice Dean, who lost in-laws to coronavirus, was pulled from testifying
Assembly Health Cmte chair wrote, “I have been told that ‘The Senate is not comfortable including her on the witness list, so we will not be including her to testify.’”
— Tom O'Mara (@SenatorOMara) August 11, 2020
If Janice Dean and her family can, first, be grievously harmed by Gov. Cuomo’s Covid-19 laws, policies and actions, and then be ignored and pushed aside, in such a cavalier and cruel fashion, by this one-party Democratic legislature clearly intent on “tightly controlling the message” not ferreting out the truth, what hope is there for average NY families in mourning to ever get answers, accountability and closure? The more than twenty-two hours of live-streamed oral testimony between these two hearings cannot come near to expressing the grief and anger of relatives of the thousands of New York families who lost their loved ones to COVID unnecessarily. (The state claims only 6,00o elderly lost their lives in the states elderly facilities but estimates are that this number is way understated due to New York being the only state that excludes nursing home residents who died in hospitals from this number.)
One family member’s testimony stands out for the simple reason that this grieving daughter, Sandy Reiburn, whose ninety-nine-year-old mother died earlier this year, is also a plain spoken and experienced advocate for senior citizens. She is the president of Nursing Home SOS Save Our Seniors. The following is from her written testimony [emphasis added]:
“As that rarest of creatures – I am an actual ‘public stakeholder’ who has suffered my mother’s impact from one NYC Nursing Home owner/operator’s pretext of caregiving. … …When all is said and done, it really is all about following the money. …
…What has happened in 2020 when the pandemic struck disproportionately in long term care facilities – was really not merely about lack of PPE – nor elders with underlying conditions. And while these are certainly true, it’s far too glib and dismissive to ascribe a kind of genocidal ageist massacre to missing masks and high blood pressure. Let me pinpoint what I feel is New York State government’s abject failure and the reason a pandemic was able to fester and destroy so many old people as a consistent state of affairs. The real ground zero – namely the NYS Dept of Health and its Public Health and Health Planning Council (PHHPC) with its impossible low standard as stewards of licensure is where your forensic appraisal should begin. The PHHPC as you’ll know, is comprised of Dr Zucker and 24 Members. …
…[It] … continue[s] to give bad actors a pass to buy yet another facility or open yet another Agency to monetize – [it] would be laughable were it not so dreadfully consequential to their resident/patients – our loved ones. …the bottom line is that this Agency and its Council are allowing predatory operators to do harm. Failures of thorough vetting … allow[s] shameless operators to be licensed. Those who then obtain a license too often continue their cavalier patterns and what follows is poor enforcement and tepid penalties, which serve to abet bad facilities. It’s not complicated. …
…Many of the SAME lobbying groups whose donors are the SAME purveyors of Nursing Home malfeasance and who ‘gave at the office’. This is not acceptable and insults the intelligence and any pretext of credibility. The foxes continue to be invited into the henhouse… …It challenges the imagination that these same folks are going to be the “Mother Teresa’s” i.e. to ‘reimagine’ Long Term Care to protect the most frail and vulnerable? Really? NO –they are protecting their bottom line and it will be per usual – on the backs of and at the expense of the disabled old…
…NYS legislators must … expose the conflicts of interest and New York State’s de facto sponsorship of harm to the elderly by the very ‘stewards’ of their alleged care… Governor Cuomo, because of his collusion with Long Term Care Lobbyists, with individual Nursing Home owner/operators, and with mega-Hospital donors – has sustained a third-world country level of ‘oversight’ – shameful in spirit and shameful in fact…”
During Ms. Reiburn’s five-minute oral testimony, she introduced several new facts:
- “FACT 1: The Department of Health, the Public Health and Health Planning Council, Dr. Zucker, are de facto enablers of harm to the elderly, demonstrated by years of malfeasance and confirmed by the commissioner’s evasive testimony on 8-3.”
- “FACT: …There has been a systemic failure which has allowed the coronavirus to find its perfect victims, those who were never attended to sufficiently, long before, as I said, we ever heard of Covid-19.”
- “FACT: …why would Governor Cuomo erode liability options which would normally hold accountable those who flouted their NYS licensed facility oversight obligations?…”
- “FACT: If you go to Chris Gloriouso’s report on March 29,  NBC, it will tell you that the governor has [sic] quietly signed off on giving $850 million to be split among more than 600 nursing homes and Leading Age, James Clyne, thought it was a great idea! Come on folks! Let’s get real!”
Ms. Reiburn warned against the NYS Attorney General -“the executive branch’s attorney” – investigating the DOH as being a conflict of interest. She stated that any attempts to accept the NYSDOH investigating itself simply “must not be permitted.” The industry liability protection Reiburn was referring to is the “Emergency or Disaster Treatment Protection Act”, secreted in NY’s budget bill, passed by both NY houses and signed into law by Cuomo on April 3, 2020. This law, effective retroactive to March 7, 2020, with its provisions written by the Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA) – as boasted about on its own website! – has been a large campaign contributor to both the NY Democratic party and Cuomo. This law, which provides these hospitals & nursing homes liability protection for both Covid and non-Covid patients (!), explicitly including when liability arises “in support of the State’s directives”: that is, conveniently, for things like the Zucker March 25 mandate. This law all but guaranteed that NYS families would never be able to sue hospital and nursing home corporate owners and operators for the Covid-19 deaths of their loved ones.
Reiburn’s Q&A testimony was even more revealing, highlighting yet more examples of Cuomo’s “pay-to-play” form of government. Most legislators took a pass on questioning her, fearing what she might actually get on the record.
Assembly Member Doug Smith (R,C,IP), Member, Committee on Aging: “What are some of the questions that you might have [for the Department of Health under oath]?”
Reiburn: “…many of these so-called owner/operators are, in fact, real estate churners. That is their main business. …this kind of layering of LLCs and Health Care Agencies and ownership and the incestuous relationships … And when you have people such as this Balboni, I mean he’s like, you know he’s umbilically attached to Governor Cuomo!” [Michael Balboni, the executive director of the Greater New York Health Care Facilities Association, testified with the industry panel at last week’s hearings, just after Health Commissioner Zucker.]
Smith: “I was a bit shocked when they [individuals who represent nursing homes] really didn’t find a problem with the March 25th order … they said, well we’ve been taking them [Covid patients] anyway, so it really wasn’t that big a deal. Did you find anything odd about that?”
Reiburn: “What I know is just a matter of monetizing. The fact is, is that they were incentivized to take – Medicare paid for additional $600 I think it was – as opposed to the $200 that they would normally get from Medicaid … and so the incentive situation was such that they were delighted to take these Covid people, especially when, subsequently, Cuomo said, you have a shield! We’re not going to blame you! Nobody can sue you!”
Assembly Member Brian Manktelo (R, C, IP), Ranking Member, Committee on Oversight, Analysis and Investigation: “[DOH] will go into a nursing home and nothing seems to happen … what can we do as legislators to change that?”
Reiburn: “Criminal action. I mean, misdemeanors and civil action is toothless. If somebody kills somebody they go to jail. And I’m sorry, but this is what is happening, these people, these vulnerable, old people are subject, voiceless people are being tormented and done away with. This is criminal action.”
Manktelo: “So, when we have DOH who we’re trusting to look into this, do we hold them accountable as well?”
Reiburn: “You bet! They need to be cleaned up! There is no question! From Zucker all the way down to the Public Health and Health Planning Council. … You have self-dealing, self-interest, in some cases developers, in some cases adjuncts to equity stakes’ investors, this is who’s running the DOH! This is an outrage!”
Sandy Reiburn, fiercely defended New York’s seniors and their families against the raw, unchecked, immoral political power in New York’s executive branch and the clear corruption within its NYSDOH. She gave voice to the unheard, outraged pain and anger of thousands of New York families which are now demanding answers. Their loved ones, trapped inside NY nursing homes, were felled by a virus, which moved though these homes “like fire through dry grass,” a dead-accurate description made famous by Cuomo himself. It was Cuomo’s very policies which placed this virus into these nursing homes.
(We reported that there was not just one Cuomo/Zucker edict, the March 25 one, but at least two more, enacted on April 7 and April 10, endangering even more seniors and also people with disabilities in group homes.)
An outside, independent and expert federal entity must be convened, to demand answers from and hold accountable NY’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, his DOH commissioner, Howard Zucker, AND the New York State legislature, as to why so many of America’s frail, vulnerable, disabled and senior citizens had to unnecessarily die within New York State.