Meeting with Cuomo administration raises new COVID-19 questions for lawmakers and promises of answers
February 11, 2021
A closed-door meeting Wednesday between Democratic state lawmakers and top officials in the Cuomo administration may have addressed some big picture questions about nursing homes during the pandemic – 15,049 residents of elder care facilities died based on the state’s latest count – but there are still details that need to be filled in.
“Many of the answers to the questions were, I believe, comprehensive. Some do require some follow up,” state Sen. James Skoufis, an Orange County Democrat who chairs the chamber’s investigations committee, told The Capitol Pressroom on Thursday morning.
The full interview is available at the end of this post.
Skoufis was one of a handful of state legislators who attended the meeting, which he said lasted more than two hours, was tense at times and ultimately a “frank conversation from both sides.” “No one was reading from a script and I think we got an attempt at genuine answers,” he added.
And while there were answers, Skoufis has follow up questions, specifically when it comes to nursing home inspections.
“I want to know where those violations were, what the fines were, were any licenses were revoked,” he said. “I’m told, as of now, no licensees have been revoked, but there are still some due process enforcement actions happening.”
He said the administration has promised to hand over the data in “short order.”
Skoufis said there was no “ironclad commitment” from the administration to meet on a strict schedule moving forward, but he noted there was a suggestion they should meet more regularly in a similar capacity. “I think there’s an appetite to open up more lines of communication with the legislature,” he said, adding that this was the “healthiest conversation” he had with the administration during his nine years in office.
Asked whether the meeting should have been held in public, Skoufis said the discussion had been convened at the request of the Cuomo administration and noted that lawmakers meet privately with agency officials all the time. He added that the Senate Democrat’s decision to release a 16-page written response from state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker indicated their commitment to transparency.
The issue of legislative subpoenas for Zucker and other Cuomo officials did not come up during the meeting, according to Skoufis, who has threatened legal action to compel answers about nursing homes from the administration. Senate Republicans have argued that the legislature should issue subpoenas prior to Zucker’s scheduled appearance at a legislative budget hearing on Feb. 25.
“There was certainly that in the backdrop… and perhaps, I don’t want to speculate too much, but perhaps that is one of the reason that prompted the administration to reach out and finally provide responses,” Skoufis said.
“Perhaps we should have raised the prospect of (subpoenas) sooner,” he said later in the interview, expressing his dissatisfaction with the timeliness of the Cuomo administration’s responses.
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