Assemblyman Christopher S. Friend (R,C,I-Big Flats) applauds the efforts of his Assembly Minority colleagues on the committees on Aging, Health and Oversight, Analysis and Investigation who recently issued letters and a petition to fellow committee members to join them in calling for a bipartisan investigation using subpoena power. A subpoena can compel Dr. Howard Zucker, commissioner of the Department of Health (DOH), to testify on the matter of nursing home deaths during the pandemic.
“I have said many times that the Legislature must flex its powers to hold the governor and the executive branch accountable. I encourage Majority members to break ranks and join Minority members in an opportunity to do what is right – call for an investigation with teeth to get to the bottom of what happened in our nursing homes during the pandemic,” said Friend. “When families throughout the state, the attorney general, DOH staff and others have been blowing the whistle on the tragedy occurring in our nursing homes since last year, it’s time to take action. We can do what is right together.”
According to Section 62-A of Legislative Law, if a majority of members on a given committee sign a petition, authority is given for that committee to issue a subpoena for an individual to appear before that committee to answer questions. For example, there are seven members on the Assembly Oversight Committee, five Majority and two Minority members. Only two Majority members are needed to be able to issue a subpoena to Dr. Zucker and compel him to answer questions following the scathing nursing home report by Attorney General Letitia James.
Friend participated in a public hearing on nursing home deaths held last year by the Assembly Majority, and while lots of testimony was given by advocates and state residents who lost loved ones in nursing homes during the pandemic, those accountable did not participate and little action came from the hearing. The assemblyman points to the ability of the committees on Aging, Health and Oversight to exert their powers as an opportunity to take real action here.
In addition to compelling Dr. Zucker’s testimony, the subpoenas can require the DOH to release all datasets related to the death of nursing home residents during the pandemic, as well as any communications between the DOH and entities involved with the crafting, implementation, and overriding of the March 25, 2020 directive which required COVID positive patients to be readmitted into long-term care facilities. As highlighted by the attorney general’s report, the DOH underreported nursing home deaths by as high as 50 percent in some cases. Friend says so much is still unknown about the deaths of roughly 13,000 seniors in the care of these facilities and a formal, bipartisan investigation is long overdue.