Top aides to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) rewrote a report written by state health officials, removing a figure that reflected how many nursing home residents in New York had died in the pandemic by June.
The number — more than 9,000 — was not public, and the governor’s most senior aides opted to take it out, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The New York Times.
The development shows a forceful effort by Cuomo to conceal data, brush aside public health expertise and boost the governor’s image as a leader in the fight against the coronavirus.
The effort to rewrite the report by state officials and omit the staggering figure comes after the state attorney general revealed earlier this year that thousands of deaths of nursing home residents had been undercounted.
After finally releasing the missing data, Cuomo claimed he had been concerned that the Trump administration would launch a politically-driven inquiry into the state’s handling of the pandemic in nursing homes.
But according to the Times’ reporting that included a review of documents and interviews with six people with direct knowledge of the closed-door discussions, Cuomo and his aides actually began concealing the data well before the arrival of data requests from federal authorities.
In one draft of the New York State Health Department’s report reviewed by the Times, a chart put the death toll roughly 50 percent higher than the figure being cited publicly by the Cuomo administration at the time.
The changes sought by the governor’s aides working with health officials on the report, further strained the governor’s fraught relationship with the state’s health department, that likely fueled the departure of at least nine of its top public health officials.
According to the Times, none of the aides who were involved in changing the report had public health expertise and health officials were concerned that the governor’s office sought to simplify too much — watering down what was once a scientific report, and fearing for the future of their jobs if they dissented.
The Times clocked the disappearance of the figure shortly after Melissa DeRosa, the governor’s top aide and Linda Lacewell, the head of the state’s Department of Financial Services became aware of its inclusion. A previously edited version prepared by Jim Malatras, a former top adviser to Cuomo who was brought back to work on the pandemic, had not removed the higher death toll.
Beth Garvey, a special counsel issued a statement on Thursday in response to detailed questioning by the Times saying, “the out-of-facility data was omitted after D.O.H. could not confirm it had been adequately verified.”
Garvey further insisted in the statement that the additional data did not change the conclusion of the report.
As more details surfaced over the deepening data control effort, lawmakers have also moved to strip Cuomo of the emergency pandemic powers he has enjoyed for months.
The development on the masking effort of nursing home deaths, comes as Cuomo separately faces another scandal after three women accused the governor of inappropriate conduct that includes workplace sexual harassment.