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Norris: Invoke subpoena powers in nursing home hearings

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Mon, Feb 8th 2021 12:10 pm

A legislative column from Assemblyman Mike Norris, R-C-Lockport

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown each one of us and our world into uncharted territory. So many things have changed in these unprecedented times, from the ways we do business to how we live our lives, but what hasn’t changed is the love for our families and those we hold dearest.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, families have reached out to me concerned about the well-being of their loved ones – especially those living in nursing homes. They have expressed outrage, including about the lack of proper PPE, the inability to gather information about their loved one’s care, patient’s depression due to severe isolation, questioning the reasoning for certain patient placements and transfers, and seeking the real statistics on deaths resulting from COVID-19 from nursing homes.

Early on, I called for investigations and public hearings, along with my colleagues in the Assembly minority conference. A joint legislative hearing was eventually held in August, where health committee members heard from families from across the state and, just like our family, friends and neighbors here in Western New York, their stories of loss and heartache were devastating. Direct questions were asked of state Department of Health (DOH) Commissioner Howard Zucker, such as “How many nursing home patients had contracted COVID-19?” or “How many nursing home deaths resulted from COVID-19?” However, the commissioner could not or would not provide answers. To this date, these questions and my multiple written requests to him for a detailed breakdown of statewide COVID-19 deaths remain unanswered. This is completely unacceptable! Taxpayers and lawmakers deserve full and open transparency from the commissioner and DOH.

Late last month, NYS Attorney General Letitia James released a report showing the state unreported nursing home deaths by as much as 50% and pointed out serious deficiencies in the handling of the coronavirus, which confirmed our worst fears. I applaud Attorney General James for speaking truth to power and issuing this revealing report.

Following this, a scathing New York Times report came out detailing at least nine top DOH officials have resigned due to the governor’s interference with COVID health policies. The minds of New Yorkers across the state are spinning at all of this news, but we must continue to ask, “If there is nothing to hide, why does the administration continue to deny the information which has been repeatedly requested by the media, lawmakers and constituents?”

That’s why, for all of these reasons and more, I am calling for immediate legislative hearings with subpoena powers. The people of our state need a thorough, top-down investigation into what happened with our nursing homes and what happened to their loved ones. We need open, transparent investigatory hearings with the ability to hold people responsible, including Commissioner Zucker, and to chart a future direction so this does not happen again.

Further, since July 1, 2020, I felt it was time for the State Legislature to remove the governor’s extraordinary powers, and I publicly called for them to do so that day and many times since. The number of my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, who support this continues to grow but, unfortunately, the downstate-driven, one-party controlled majorities have yet to take action. These powers must be rescinded now to restore the constitutional balance of New York state government.

I can’t understand the devastation of losing someone who was in a nursing home to COVID. My heart just breaks for all the families who have contacted me and all the people from across the state who have shared their stories. However, what I can do is continue fighting for justice, for the answers you deserve and legislation that will prevent future tragedies.

As always, if I can be of assistance on any state issue, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at my office in Clarence. You can call us at 716-839-4691 or email me at [email protected]. For more updates, please follow me on social media or email me to sign up for my e-newsletter.

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