COVID victims’ families deserve more

Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul speaks Oct. 5 during a novel coronavirus news briefing in the state Capitol. Courtesy of Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul’s office

This editorial appeared in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise on Oct. 16:

SARANAC LAKE — On [Oct.12], the New York Post reported on a private meeting between Gov. Kathy Hochul and families of nursing home residents who died after contracting COVID-19.

In this closed door meeting, Hochul “leaned in pretty hard and opened up with an apology to the families about what they had to go through as a result of these policies,” Assemblyman Ron Kim, D-Queens, told the Post.

That’s promising to hear. We believe this apology was a step in the right direction. However, it’s a far cry from what these families — and the families of other nursing home residents across the state who died from COVID-19 — deserve.

On March 25, 2020, the state Department of Health, under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, issued a directive ordering nursing homes to accept residents who had been hospitalized with COVID-19 after they’d recovered. Yes, this directive was issued in the early days of the pandemic; and, yes, we know a lot more about how the virus spreads now than we did then.

Some people believe that this policy increased the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. A report from the state DOH found that policy wasn’t responsible for the rise in deaths, but we know now, based on Attorney General Letitia James’s report released in January, that Cuomo’s DOH did undercount the number of people in nursing homes who died from COVID-19 …

This is about more than numbers. These were people with families, people who lived entire lives. To have their deaths be obscured or not counted is an insult to them and the people who loved them.

Since taking over as governor after the resignation of Cuomo, Hochul has tried to show that she’s different from her predecessor. On her first day in office, she updated the state’s COVID-19 death toll, acknowledging 12,000 more deaths from COVID-19 than was previously publicized by the Cuomo administration. On [Oct. 13], she told reporters during a press briefing that New Yorkers deserve to know that their elected officials “give a damn.”

“I apologized for the pain that those poor families had to endure as a result of their family members contracting COVID in nursing homes,” she said of her meeting with the families earlier in the week.

“I just approached this whole thing differently, that people deserve to know that their government listens and actually cares, and gives a damn about them,” she added.

Hochul has pledged to work on data transparency. She has said that she will support a victims memorial. She also said she would discuss a nursing home victim compensation fund that Kim has proposed.

Words are one thing. Actions are another. These families, and all New Yorkers, do deserve to know that their government “gives a damn.” It’s now up to Hochul to show us.

© 2021 Adirondack Daily Enterprise

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