Report: Lobbyist donations preceded Cuomo’s decision granting immunity to nursing homes

New York has been the undisputed epicenter of America’s COVID-19 crisis, with John Hopkins University reporting nearly 30,000 deaths in the Empire State as of Thursday afternoon.

A substantial percentage of the fatalities in that state occurred in nursing homes — and now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has granted immunity to those facilities for coronavirus-related deaths, a recent report suggests that he may have had an ulterior motive for doing so.

Cuomo grants immunity

As reported by Jacobin magazine in a story that was re-published by The Guardian, the governor recently signed legislation granting broad immunity to any “health care facility administrator, executive, supervisor, board member, trustee or other person responsible for directing, supervising or managing a health care facility and its personnel or other individual in a comparable role.”

Syracuse University law professor Nina Kohn pointed out that granting such broad absolution is extremely unusual by national standards.

Kohn was quoted by Jacobin as explaining that in this respect, “New York is an outlier and has the most explicit and sweeping immunity language.”

Suspicions raised

The move came in the wake of a controversial order Cuomo issued earlier this spring in which he required nursing homes to accept residents returning from hospitals regardless of whether they were confirmed or suspected to be positive for COVID-19.

It has also been reported by Jacobin magazine that the New York State Democratic Committee was the recipient in 2018 of over $1 million in donations from the Greater New York Hospital Association, which performs lobbying work for hospital and nursing home operators in the state. These funds came at a time when the state Democratic Party was heavily involved in backing Cuomo’s primary run for the governor’s office.

Even fellow Democrats in the state have expressed discomfort with the apparent conflict of interest, and some of them are now pushing to have the immunity rule reversed, particularly in light of the devastating coronavirus death toll in nursing home facilities across the state.

Democrat New York Assemblyman Ron Kim stated, “As the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed in New York State, it is now apparent that negligence by administrators and executives of nursing homes has occurred at an extraordinary degree,” adding that the immunity rule “egregiously” attempts to “insulate” health care executives from accountability.

Governor remains unapologetic

However, senior Cuomo adviser Rich Azzopardi remains unapologetic. He told Jacobin: “This pandemic remains an unprecedented public health crisis and we had to realign New York’s entire healthcare system, using every type of facility to prepare for the surge, and recruiting more than 96,000 volunteers – 25,000 from out of state, to help fight this virus.

“These volunteers are good samaritans and what was passed by 111 members of the legislature was an expansion of the existing Good Samaritan Law to apply to the emergency that coronavirus created,” he continued. “If we had not done this, these volunteers wouldn’t have been accepted and we never would have had enough frontline healthcare workers. This law was intended to increase capacity and provide quality care, and any suggestion otherwise is simply outrageous.”

Only time will tell if New Yorkers are convinced by that argument.

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