Assemblywoman Stefani Zinerman (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant, Northern Crown Heights) said yesterday that State Department of Health (DOH) Commissioner Howard A. Zucker has a lot of explaining to do about both the state’s handling of nursing homes during the first wave of COVID last year.
Zinerman’s comments came following a letter she spearheaded to Assembly Committee on Aging Chair Ron Kim (D-Queens), asking that Zucker be subpoenaed before the committee to grill him about what went wrong at the state’s nursing homes that resulted in thousands of elderly and worker deaths.
“We’ve got to pull the covers off this. We need to get him [Zucker] in a room and come up with answers. He’s got to have a plan. What is the cure he has in mind instead of keeping the number of deaths to himself,” said Zinerman, also a member of the Committee of Aging.
“We need to hear it from him on the record. There are a number of things that are out of whack that we’ve not kept pace with,” she added.
The DOH has oversight over both the state’s nursing homes and the death care industry, which includes funeral homes, who were forced to take in hundreds of bodies until the state finally installed refrigerated trucks as temporary morgues at the 39th Street pier in Sunset Park.
According to the Brooklyn Paper, the count of COVID-related nursing home deaths was severely underestimated, “revealing that the virus killed at least four percent of the borough’s residents in long-term care.”
According to the New York Times, more than 15,000 people have died from the coronavirus in New York’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities. But as recently as late January, the state was reporting only about 8,500 fatalities.
Cuomo admitted to reporters on Monday that in delaying reporting the actual number of deaths at nursing homes and adult care facilities that he “created pain,” but stopped short of a full apology for the state’s withholding of virus death data from state lawmakers.
KCP first reported mass deaths inside the nursing homes on April 8, 2020, after eight bodies were left several days in a Crown Heights nursing home. Among the sources for that story was Zinerman, who was then a candidate for the assembly.
Zinerman said she wants to also be trained by the state and be a volunteer ombudsman for senior living facilities to ensure that nursing homes in the community adhere to the rules.
The DOH didn’t respond to requests at post time for comment on whether Zuker will appear before the committee and on his role in not releasing the number of actual deaths at these facilities.