Republican chairman slams Hochul on nursing home deaths
ALBANY — When she took over state government six weeks ago, Gov. Kathy Hochul signaled she needed 45 days to clean house by replacing appointed officials involved in scandals tied to her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo.
But state Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy came to the statehouse Thursday to dispute that claim, arguing Hochul has left in place many Cuomo loyalists, including the head of the 64-campus State University system, James Malatras.
Langworthy argued New Yorkers have been expecting Hochul to address the controversies surrounding the Cuomo administration’s undercount of COVID-19 fatalities at nursing homes by replacing all officials who had a hand in producing a state Health Department report whose conclusions have been strongly disputed by state Attorney General Letitia James.
Under the rug
“Kathy Hochul has talked really tough about giving the boot to everyone named in the report on sexual harassment, but she has done nothing but sweep under the rug the entire nursing home scandal,” New York’s top Republican said. “Malatras still enjoys her full confidence. He is sitting over there at SUNY, making $450,000 a year, but he has blood on his hands from what we know about the nursing home coverup.”
Malatras was appointed SUNY chancellor in August 2020. The fact that he was appointed by the SUNY trustees would make it cumbersome for Hochul to fire him outright even if she were inclined to do so.
SUNY officials did not respond to Langworthy.
After the Health Department compiled data on the nursing home deaths last year, the edited version later released by the Cuomo administration did not include the number of nursing home patients who died from coronavirus after being transferred to hospitals. The attorney general’s office said the true number of deaths was far greater than what the state report had indicated.
Malatras told reporters in March: “As with many reports, there were back and forth with structure, citations and other language during the process. But to be clear, I included the fatalities data provided by the New York State Department of Health, which I did not alter and change.”
Later that month, ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative news outlet, citing reports by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, concluded “it is clear Malatras had not told the full story of the health department’s report.”
Several state lawmakers have continued to be critical of Malatras for his defense of the Cuomo administration’s conclusion that the wave of contagion deaths at nursing home was largely the result of infected facility staffers spreading the virus to patients.
Among those indicating displeasure with Hochul’s pace in ridding the government of Cuomo appointees was Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, D-the Bronx.
She told CNHI: “The Cuomo era won’t be over until all who enabled his harmful reign of governance are required to seek alternative employment..”
Hochul has made strides in recruiting many new faces to state government. Among those who had a role in the nursing home report and resigned when Hochul took over was Linda Lacewell, who headed the state Department of Financial Services.
Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, also worked on the nursing home report. She announced her resignation just before Cuomo said he was preparing to resign.
Others who have left or are about to leave state government include: Dr. Howard Zucker, commissioner of the Department of Health; Joseph Robito, who headed the state Environmental Facilities Corp.; RoAnn Destito, the commissioner of Office of General Services; Michael Hein, commissioner of the Office of Temporary Disability Assistance; and Michael Green, commissioner of the state Department of Criminal Justice Services; and Inspector General Letizia Tagliafierro.
Cuomo officials at SUNY
Over the past year, several former Cuomo administration officials have joined Malatras at SUNY.
Hochul spokesman Hazel Crampton-Hays said in a statement the governor “has worked to identify the best team to lead the state forward.”
“Governor Hochul committed to New Yorkers that no one who was mentioned in the Attorney General’s sexual harassment investigation performing unethical behavior would be a member of her Executive Chamber, and she has delivered on that promise,” Crampton-Hays said in a statement.
She noted several individuals will be resigning from state board positions but will temporarily remain in place until the state Senate can confirm replacements.
Among state agency leaders who are in good stead with the new governor are State Police Supt. Kevin Bruen, Environmental Commissioner Basil Seggos and Office of Children and Families Services Commissioner Sheila Poole.
Langworthy contended that Hochul, after staying clear of the nursing home scandal as Cuomo’s lieutenant governor, should delve into the attorney general’s findings and provide a full accounting of how the Cuomo team allegedly manipulated data in an attempt to convince the public that state policies played no role in the thousands of deaths of vulnerable patients.