CUOMO AND RETIREES:
A DEADLY HISTORY
Andrew Cuomo’s disastrous handling of Nursing Home and Long-Term Care facilities during the pandemic was completely on brand for him and predictable. We only needed to look at his handling of New York City Off-Track Betting’s retirees a decade earlier.
While we were isolated in our homes for much of 2020, we turned to our elected leaders for guidance, comfort, and information on how to protect ourselves from COVID-19. More often than not, we were given contradictory, unclear, or downright false information as to what was going on with the pandemic. But through the social media noise and the anxiety of being shutdown, for many of us there was a shining star on a hill. Someone we welcomed into our lives everyday, seven days a week, when we could exhale a collective sigh of relief. We could set our schedules around it.
I’m speaking of the daily press conferences of Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York.
For those who live outside of New York, Andrew Cuomo is the rough-and-tumble, tough talking, bellyaching son of perhaps our state’s most beloved former Governor, Mario Cuomo. He is the older brother of CNN personality Chris Cuomo, and he is the 56th Governor of the great state of New York. If there is one thing for certain, it’s that Andrew Cuomo has never met a television camera he didn’t like.
So when the pandemic broke out and he actually had to step up and do his job, he did so with relish. He appeared on live TV every day for an hour at 11:00 AM to give updates on the pandemic. What he had to say was generally appreciated by his constituency, and while his news wasn’t always good, it was what the people needed to hear. Suddenly, his national profile rose and the obvious calls for him to run for president were bandied about. He even got a book deal.
Andrew Cuomo achieved a new found fandom. “Cuomosexuals” became a meme, in no small part thanks to political satirist and internet personality Randy Rainbow.
But you can’t keep a good man up.
The inevitable backlash against Gov. Cuomo started in earnest with negative stories about him leaking to the press. Not only is he facing allegations of sexual misconduct, but allegations that he intentionally misled the public on the number of COVID-19 deaths of patients in nursing homes. If true, this represents a great abuse of the trust of his constituents who put their health — and the health of their loved ones — in his hands.
It all goes back to a March 25, 2020 directive from the NY Department of Health that required nursing homes to readmit residents who had tested positive for the coronavirus. It was six weeks before the controversial directive was partially reversed so that patients in New York hospitals had to test negative for the coronavirus before they could be discharged to nursing homes. But it was too late by that time for thousands of New Yorkers.
A 242-page report by the New York State Bar Association Task Force on Nursing Homes and Long-Term Care says, “Although a determination of the number of additional nursing home deaths is beyond the capacity of the Task Force, there are credible reviews that suggest that the directive, for the approximately six weeks that it was in effect, did lead to some number of additional deaths.”
Needless worry for thousands of patients and families. Over 6,000 needless deaths.
Sadly, this news is not surprising. In fact, it was predictable. We only have to look back to a not too distant era.
In 1971, the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation was founded by New York as a Public Benefit Corporation, which was a fancy way of saying that OTB employees were entitled to city workers’ pensions and health coverage for life when they retired. But while the pensions were constitutionally protected, a loophole in the law stated that the retirees’ health benefits would be paid for from the profits of the company. There was no provision stated for what would happen to the health coverage if the company should fold. The thinking in 1971 was that OTB was like the Metropolitan Transit Authority or the Post Office: it would never close.
That decision did not stem from Cuomo, obviously. However, fast forward to 2010.
In December of that year, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo was elected Governor, but he had not yet been inaugurated.
Under outgoing Governor David Patterson, New York City’s Off-Track Betting closed in bankruptcy on December 7.
In January 2011, the roughly 900 retirees of OTB were sent a letter informing them that as of the end of the previous year, they no longer had health insurance. Remember, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was only signed into law less than ten months earlier. It would take several years for major provisions to take effect. Essentially, the retirees had no health care.
So 900 New York City OTB retirees who paid into the system, thinking they had health care for the rest of their lives, got no warning and had no recourse when that health care was taken away. Why? There was no company anymore. No company? No profits. No profits? No retiree health benefits.
There were champions in Albany who fought for the retirees. Current NYC Mayoral candidate Eric Adams, a State Senator at the time, was a vocal supporter of OTB’s workers’ rights. The legislature presented Governor Cuomo a bill that would have reinstated the health benefits of those 900 retirees — a number, by the way, that would never increase. There were not going to be any new retirees, so it was a population that over time would naturally dwindle to zero.
Governor Cuomo vetoed the bill. He vetoed a second bill, as well.
Eventually, he tossed the retirees a bone but for many it was too little, too late. He caused needless worry for hundreds of families and needless deaths.
Who treats people this way? What politician treats constituents and potential voters this way?