Nearly 6,000 nursing home residents have died from Coronavirus in New York while facilities were required to accept COVID-positive patients. Since it was his disastrous March 25 order that made it happen, Governor Andrew Cuomo is responsible for those deaths. But rather than accept that, he has been spinning the tragedy for a besotted and mollycoddling media – like a Cirque du Soleil performer spinning plates with deft assurance and a masterful command of redirection.
This calculated revisionism is cold comfort, however, to the many families who lost loved ones needlessly. It is also the same callous dishonesty and disrespect for Americans in crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic that we have come to expect from many leaders on the left. Do Cuomo’s policy debacle and his subsequent attempts to dodge responsibility warrant a new sobriquet for him – Governor Death?
Let’s first acknowledge how unprecedented this moment is for all of us, including for leaders all over the world. Unless you are Bill Gates, who has been grimly prognosticating a pandemic for years, there exists no playbook for this global event. As such, it is probably fair to allow some latitude for those who have had to make real-time decisions of great consequence without the benefits of a robust historical record from which to learn.
But that’s what great leaders do. They meet the moment with bravery, an intuitive sense of the correct course to undertake, and bold action. We entrust our leaders to do their best in a crisis and recognize that mistakes are made, which are often regrettable but understandable, given the vagaries and duress of high-stakes decision making.
Winston Churchill made a grave and costly error at Gallipoli in World War II, for example, after which his wife, Clementine, told a biographer she thought he’d “die from grief.” But Churchill redeemed himself at Dunkirk by soliciting help from Roosevelt and during his stirring radio addresses to the English people during the German Blitzkrieg attacks on London and other major cities. Churchill all but saved western civilization from the ferocious maw of the Nazi wolf, and his failure at Gallipoli was rightly contextualized as the misstep of a man fighting an encroaching evil head-on, and without a crystal ball.
An Easily Avoidable Mistake
Should we then afford Andrew Cuomo the benefit of the doubt for the nearly 6,000 deaths of nursing home patients in New York State, given that he was trying to manage a catastrophe as it unspooled wildly and got away from him? In many instances, the outcomes of the decisions our leaders make in crisis are unforeseeable – but that doesn’t apply here. Everyone all the world over knew that the elderly and the immuno-compromised were at the highest risk of dying from COVID-19. That was made perfectly clear early on in Italy, where fully 96% of Coronavirus patients who died were between the ages of 60 and 90 and had at least one pre-existing condition. So Cuomo’s decision that forced the populations most vulnerable to dying from Coronavirus to be exposed to it in their strictly quarantined nursing homes is bereft of reason – and an idea even a second grader would likely understand as terrible.
Part of Cuomo’s apparent calculus was the idea of keeping hospitals unburdened of the overwhelming numbers of patients that were expected following the widespread acceptance of the fatally flawed Imperial model that predicted 2.2 million U.S. deaths from Coronavirus. But Trump had already dispatched the Navy ship the USNS Comfort to New York harbor on March 18 – a 1,000-bed floating hospital that was barely used. Why would Cuomo send COVID-19 patients to nursing homes when there existed more than ample space for them in hospitals that were ordered to obey directives to send their healthier patients to the hospital ship? Was it the fog of war or catastrophic leadership – or both?
Cuomo Does No Wrong
In addition to preventing nursing homes from being told whether a new patient had tested positive, Cuomo directly contravened the government’s CMS guidelines for nursing homes. These specified that Coronavirus residents be transferred to hospitals for treatment to protect the virus’s spread among the most vulnerable. Then, he doubled down on dumb when he forbade nursing homes from allowing visitors, isolating the elderly and infirm from the very people who give them a reason to live. These family members could have been tested for COVID-19 to allow them to see their parents and grandparents during a monumentally frightening time.
It took many thousands of deaths for Cuomo to finally reverse his calamitous decision on May 11 and order testing for all potential nursing home residents transferred from hospitals. Although glaringly free of any apology, this was a tacit acknowledgment of just how tragic the results of his feckless, reckless leadership were. Like a shell game street hustler, Cuomo immediately began diverting attention from his devastating policy mistake to Bad Man Orange – a familiar strategy for leftists in the Trump era. Cuomo insisted he was following federal guidelines with his nursing home decision, but finding such a directive anywhere within the government is the bureaucratic equivalent of the search for the Fountain of Youth. No matter how hard you look, you can’t find what isn’t there. What does exist, however, is legislation signed by Cuomo that indemnifies all New York State hospital and nursing home executives from any lawsuits related to COVID-19. This was generous of the governor – but was he simply returning the favor after an influential health care lobby group donated more than one million dollars to his campaign between 2015 and 2018? If this is politics as usual, it’s the kind that makes you want to take a shower.
Time for Accountability
With eyes wide open, we must take a hard look at our collective treatment of the elderly in this country. There are reasoned arguments that, in many respects, our senior citizens have come to constitute a dispensable population or throwaway demographic. And with a shocking incident of elder abuse gone viral this week, more light is being shed on this criminally ignored problem in our youth-obsessed nation. Notwithstanding his tone-deaf bro-chats with sibling Chris Cuomo on CNN, Andrew Cuomo is now the new poster boy for how not to treat our senior citizens. But he wasn’t alone. Like an oleaginous Robin to Cuomo’s Batman, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy issued the same misbegotten directive – and suffered the same calamitous deaths of the elderly in nursing homes.
On March 24, Cuomo bleated about Trump’s responsibility for the imminent Coronavirus deaths in New York when he made the statement, with all the faux-indignation of a Learning Annex acting class drop out, “You pick the 26,000 who are going to die!” With 25-30% of all Coronavirus mortalities in New York State directly attributable to his devastating nursing home policy, Governor Cuomo could well have been staring in the mirror when he uttered those words.
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