The exact number of nursing home residents in New York who died from COVID-19 during the pandemic is still unknown.
If you ask the state, their official number puts the death toll at a little over 6,600 nursing home residents.
This is because, if a nursing home resident contracted COVID-19, but passed away in a hospital, it is counted as a hospital death, not as a nursing home death.
However, health experts from around the state place this number closer to 10,000.
Yet, despite repeated requests from state lawmakers, the State Health Department still has not released these numbers.
Senator James Tedisco along with a group of Republican lawmakers announced that they are launching an online petition to put pressure on the Democratic majority to subpoena the State Health Department for these numbers.
“It might be embarrassing for the governor to see that the numbers are 10,000, 11,000 or 12,000 and I understand that,” Senator Tedisco said. “But that doesn’t rise above the need to have the numbers to prepare and put a plan in place, a realistic plan of what not to and what to do that works for the future.”
“I think our people in our state deserve to have these answers, and I’m hoping that with this online petition we can, we can finally, finally get to the bottom of this,” Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh emphasized.
State Republican lawmakers, along with a few Democratic lawmakers, put forward bi-partisan legislation that would create an independent investigation, with subpoena power, to look at why so many nursing home residents died from COVID-19 during the pandemic.
So far, Democratic leaders have not announced any plan on bringing to the floor a vote for this bill.
Since the Democrats are in the majority in both the Senate and the Assembly, they hold the subpoena power in the State Legislature.
Spectrum News reached out to the spokespeople in both the Senate and Assembly and received no response.
The State Legislature held two hearings looking at nursing homes deaths back in August, where the State Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker only chose to attend one.
At the time, the commissioner was asked for these numbers again, which he replied saying the state is still compiling the data.
"It perplexes me that an administration that prides itself on data driven policies" does not have this information, State Senator James Skoufis said.
Senator James Skoufis, Senator Rachel May, Senator Gustavo Rivera and Senator Simcha Felder all wrote a letter to the State Health Department on August 21, a few weeks after the state legislative hearings, asking again for the number of nursing home resident deaths.
The letter gave the State Health Department three weeks to respond. The deadline quietly slipped by on September 11, with no word or update from either side.
When Spectrum News asked all four Senators for an interview, all four said they were unavailable.
When then asked for a statement, the spokespeople for all four Senators fell silent and did not return any request for a statement.
Since subpoena power is up to the State Democratic majority, it is up to them to put pressure on the State Health Department.
“He’s dissing all of us,” Senator Tedisco said about Dr. Howard Zucker’s lack of response to the letter. “Not only the people of New York State, but our legislative checks and balances. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve got to kind of blame it on the leadership in both houses. Okay this was a pandemic, seven months ago we were in an entirely different situation. We have to take back some of our power, in fact we have to take back all of our power to make the decisions we make as a separate branch of government.”
State Health Department spokesman Gary Holmes, released a statement in response saying,
“One thing we can agree with our legislative colleagues on is that accurate and reliable data should drive smart public health decisions. So not only are we carefully reviewing all previous data, as the commissioner committed to, but we're also requiring confirmatory and post mortem testing for anybody who may have had COVID-19 or flu symptoms, or exposure to someone who did, to ensure data integrity."
This is similar to what the State Health Commissioner said during the Legislative hearing in August.
Rich Azzopardi, the governor’s senior advisor, also responded to some of these comments made by lawmakers during the press conference on Wednesday saying in part,
"The truth may be inconvenient for their politics, but-- as has been the case with many other states -- it was found that the main source of infection in nursing homes was, through no fault of their own, asymptomatic staffers."
Right now there is no scheduled future legislative session date until next year.