As a member of the Committee on Oversight, Analysis, and Investigation, Assemblyman Michael Montesano (R,C,I,LBT-Glen Head) joined his Assembly Minority colleagues for a virtual press conference on Thursday, Feb. 11 to call upon their Majority counterparts in the Assembly Oversight, Health and Aging committees to sign a petition which would trigger the delivery of a subpoena to New York State Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard A. Zucker. Joining the members of the Assembly was Gelsey Randazzo Markese, whose 91-year-old grandmother died of natural causes this past fall after Markese pushed for months for essential caregiver visits and was denied, and Vivian Rivera Zayas from Voices for Seniors, which is a grassroots statewide advocacy group for seniors who are in long-term care facilities.
Letters asking for support in signing the petition were circulated to Majority members of the Assembly Oversight, Health and Aging committees during the week of Feb.1, 2021, but as of Feb. 11, Majority members have yet to address the letters or sign the petition. At the end of the week of Feb. 1, the DOH reported that the number of COVID-19 nursing home deaths was at 13,163. As of yesterday, that number is now at 15,049, which includes other long-term care facilities like assisted living and adult daycare centers.
“It is a shame that even after the release of the attorney general’s report, we are still being stonewalled in trying to help obtain answers for families who lost loved ones,” said Montesano. “If Attorney General Letitia James is able to put politics aside and do the right thing by releasing the data, then so should those within the state Legislature. This is something we should be working together on, as it is a humanity issue and these families deserve answers. Now is a time to unite as we cannot just idly stand by and let Gov. Cuomo and Commissioner Zucker continue to cover up their lies and mistakes from this past year.”
The subpoena to Commissioner Zucker would require the commissioner to testify and provide all data regarding COVID-19 nursing homes deaths, including communications from the Department of Health (DOH) and other parties, which led to the decision to create, apply and override its March 25 directive. Lawmakers were able to find a legal legislative workaround, which would bypass the need for the committee chairperson to issue a subpoena, who currently won’t. According to Section 62-A of Legislative Law, if a majority of the members on any given committee sign a petition, that committee may issue a subpoena for an individual to appear before said committee to answer questions. On the Assembly Oversight Committee there are seven members, two from the Minority who have already signed the petition, and five Majority members. This means only two more Majority signatures are required to issue a subpoena.
“Additionally, we were informed late yesterday that Gov. Cuomo and his administration have very quietly set up 19 nursing homes meant only for those recovering from COVID-19,” said Montesano. “If this really was something they were discussing in November, why haven’t we heard of the idea sooner? Why are they having secret meetings? We have repeatedly been stonewalled and it just seems very convenient for this information to come out now, when we are pushing to subpoena the commissioner. Regardless of this information, we and the families who lost loved ones deserve real answers that still require Commissioner Zucker to testify in a hearing dedicated solely to this issue. It has been almost a year and there is still a lot of covering up that is going on when the people of New York deserve an honest and transparent government. This isn’t a game. These are people’s lives who are being messed with.”
Find the original letter and petition here.