Sign & Subpoena DOH Commissioner on COVID-19 Deaths in Nursing Homes

Posted: February 12, 2021 in Health, Seniors

Editor’s Note: Find the original letter and petition here.

View the press conference here.

As the ranking Minority member of the Assembly’s Committee on Health, Assemblyman Kevin Byrne (R,C,I,SAM,ROS-Mahopac) joined his colleagues for a virtual press conference on Thursday, February 11 to renew their call upon their Democratic colleagues in the Assembly Oversight, Health and Aging committees to sign a petition that would initiate additional legislative hearings to utilize the Legislature’s subpoena powers.

Joining the press conference was Gelsey Randazzo Markese, who lost her 91-year-old grandmother to natural causes at the end of 2020, fighting unsuccessfully for months for essential caregiver visits, and Vivian Rivera Zayas from Voices for Seniors, a statewide grassroots advocacy group for seniors who live in long-term care facilities.

Letters asking for the Majority Conference’s support in signing the petition were circulated to all members of the Assembly Oversight, Health and Aging committees during the week of Feb. 1 2021. As of Feb. 11, Majority members have yet to address the letters or sign the petition.

            “It is high time that the families who lost loved ones in elder care facilities due to COVID-19 are given real answers as to what happened,” said Byrne. “The DOH has held private, partisan meetings, and only recently shared more data after being forced to do so by the state’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Empire Center. The department’s lackluster response to the Legislature is simply unacceptable. While we continue to review the information recently released by the DOH to the press, it is abundantly clear that we still have more questions than answers.

“Some of our colleagues have suggested that we will have the opportunity during the Budget Health Committee hearing to ask questions. While we will take every opportunity we can to get answers, relying on a budget hearing to ask questions about this issue is entirely inappropriate,” said Byrne. “We also have many other important questions to ask regarding the state’s proposed $190 billion budget, the largest budget item being Medicaid. This issue is too important and it merits an additional hearing led by those who are unafraid to exercise the Legislature’s subpoena powers. This is and should remain a non-partisan issue. Many of our colleagues from both political parties have spoken out on this issue, for which I am grateful, but talking is simply not enough. It’s time to walk the walk and join our effort to unveil the truth.”

The subpoena to Commissioner Zucker would require him to testify and provide all information regarding COVID-19 deaths in elder care facilities. This would also include all communications from the Department of Health and other parties regarding the March 25 directive. Legislators were able to find a legal workaround, which would bypass needing to have the committee chairperson to issue a subpoena, as none of the chairpersons for the Oversight, Aging and Health committees will issue one currently. In order to do so, according to Section 62-A of Legislative Law, if a majority of members on any given committee sign a petition, they can issue a subpoena to have an individual appear before said committee.

Assemblyman Byrne represents NY’s 94th Assembly District, which includes portions of Putnam and Westchester counties. Byrne is the ranking minority member of the Assembly Committee on Health, serves as chair of the Assembly Minority Program Committee.

The above information was previously distributed and made public for immediate release by the Office of Assemblyman Kevin Byrne