Federal law enforcement officials are scrutinizing New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s controversial move to help his donors shield nursing home executives from legal consequences during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report.
The probe follows a Daily Poster investigative series detailing how one of Cuomo’s biggest donors, the Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA) — a lobby group that represents hospital systems and nursing home operators — said it “drafted and aggressively advocated for” the corporate immunity provision. Cuomo’s administration quietly inserted the measure into his state’s budget as thousands lay dying from COVID-19 in New York nursing homes.
Critics say that the immunity law removed a key deterrent to corporate malfeasance, and victims and their families were subsequently stripped of their legal rights. Cuomo’s original executive order shielding frontline health care workers from lawsuits was widely reported, but not the governor’s separate budget language extending immunity to hospital and nursing home corporations’ executives and board members.
On Thursday, THE CITY disclosed that federal investigators looking into Cuomo’s handling of nursing home policy are now specifically asking questions about the immunity provision. The New York news outlet reports:
FBI investigators probing the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic last spring are seeking information about a state budget provision that gave operators legal immunity, THE CITY has learned.
In recent weeks, FBI officials have been looking to interview members of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s staff and other state officials about the eleventh-hour addition to the state budget last March, according to three people familiar with the matter. The measure granted nursing homes and hospitals broad legal protections against lawsuits and criminal liability for care provided to residents and patients during the pandemic.
FBI officials started to make house calls this month, showing up at people’s residences and leaving business cards, according to the three sources.
Investigators’ questions have focused primarily on the nursing home immunity provision and how it “got in the state budget,” said one legislative source, who did not want to be named because of the ongoing probe.
In a statement to the Daily Poster, New York assemblyman Ron Kim said: “The brazen abuse of power by Andrew Cuomo must come to an end. From allowing his top donors to write deadly policies to protect their corporate interests, to defrauding the state with false nursing home data so he can make more money on his book sales, the willful corrupt conduct must stop.”
A recent report from New York attorney general Letitia James concluded that “the immunity laws could be wrongly used to provide any individual or entity from liability, even if those decisions were not made in good faith.” The report added that the provisions “provide financial incentives to for-profit nursing home operators to put residents at risk of harm by refraining from investing public funds to obtain sufficient staffing to meet residents’ care needs, to purchase sufficient PPE for staff, and to provide effective training to staff to comply with infection control protocols during pandemics and other public health emergencies.”
Melissa DeRosa, a top Cuomo aide whose father, brother, and sister all work for a lobbying firm that represents GNYHA in Albany, admitted last month that the governor’s administration withheld nursing home casualty data from state lawmakers as he was being celebrated by the national press corps and getting ready to hawk a book touting his leadership during the pandemic.
Not long after, the Albany Times Union reported that the FBI and federal prosecutors had started probing Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes during COVID.
A Scandal Engulfing New York
The corporate immunity scheme that is now being investigated isn’t a side note in the larger “Cuomo-gate” affair. The arrangement lies at the heart of the nursing home scandal engulfing New York politics.
This is a straightforward tale of a powerful industry donor pressing a politician to shield corporate executives from legal consequences as more than fifteen thousand nursing home residents in New York died, often terribly confused and horribly alone. The full scope of these casualties was knowingly withheld in a way that helped those corporate executives Cuomo aimed to protect — and the information suppression also helped the governor himself while he basked in the media limelight and sold a book about “Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
Meanwhile, Republican politicians in other states and in Washington copied and pasted Cuomo’s corporate immunity law into their own statutes and legislative proposals. Suddenly, all over the country, those desperately fighting to improve conditions in the profit-at-all-cost elder care industry found they had lost a key method deterring bad behaviors by being able to take such matters to court.
Last month, as the true scope of New York’s nursing home dirty dealings began to go public, Cuomo lashed out at one of the few individuals who had been speaking out on the matter and helping the Daily Poster break the story from the very beginning: Assemblyman Ron Kim. But this time, the callous behavior wasn’t written off as a personality quirk of everybody’s favorite tough-talking governor. Cuomo, it seemed, had finally gone too far — and the dam broke.
With so much going on, so many claims and controversies flying about, it’s all too easy to miss how it all fits together. But everything Cuomo now stands accused of — helping his donors secure a liability shield, covering up nursing home coronavirus fatalities, threatening to destroy those who cross him, sexually harassing numerous women — paints the portrait of a simple and terrible truth: This is a politician who abuses his power with no regard for how his actions harm others.
The question now: Will he finally face accountability?