New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is facing another brewing scandal, this time over an order directing homes for people with developmental disabilities to accept COVID-positive patients.
Cuomo issued the order on April 10, 2020, just weeks into his state’s lockdown in an effort to combat the pandemic, according to Fox News. The order is similar to one he issued weeks earlier in March directing nursing homes to accept hospitalized COVID patients whether or not they had tested negative for the disease. Unlike the nursing home order, Cuomo never rescinded his April 10 directive, however.
According to the New York Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), 552 residents of homes for people with developmental disabilities have died from COVID-19. Out of nearly 34,600 people that live in such facilities, 6,900 contracted the disease.
“This just demonstrates how little the Cuomo administration thinks of people with disabilities,” state Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, chair of the Assembly’s Committee on People with Disabilities, told New York’s The Journal News last month. “It also demonstrates their lack of vision to see the options that they should have seen at the time.”
OPWDD spokesperson Jennifer O’Sullivan defended Cuomo’s order in a statement to the Journal News.
“Consistent with public health recommendations, OPWDD issued guidance instructing providers to accept individuals only if they could safely accommodate them in the group home,” she said. “People who could not be safely accommodated either remained at the hospital or were served in one of the over 100 temporary sites established for COVID-19 recovery efforts in partnership with OPWDD provider agencies.”
The Cuomo administration made a similar defense last year when it was accused of furthering the spread of the disease and endangering the lives of seniors from barring nursing homes from rejecting hospitalized COVID-19 patients based on whether they still tested positive for the disease or not.
O’Sullivan also said that the OPWDD took action in March 2020 to protect the residents of homes of the disabled after the agency “recognized the impact that COVID-19 could have on people we support.” The spokeswoman said the agency took “immediate action to close congregate day habilitation sites, suspend visitation in community residences, limit community outings, and issue numerous guidance documents and trainings on infection control measures.”
In January, New York Attorney General Letitia James released a report showing that the Cuomo administration had undercounted nursing home fatalities due to COVID-19 by as much as 50%. The next month, a top Cuomo aid apologized to state Democratic lawmakers for hiding the nursing home fatality data, claiming that the administration was attempting to avoid prosecution by former President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice. Later reports contradicted that explanation by showing the cover-up of data began weeks before Trump’s Justice Department began requesting nursing home data from states.
Cuomo is now facing an impeachment effort in the state legislature over claims that the governor sexually harassed several women.