‘Resignation isn’t accountability’: Kim, Williams press Hochul to seek ‘justice’ for COVID-19 nursing home victims

Though the Cuomo Administration end more than a month ago, family members of loved ones who died of COVID-19 in nursing homes across the state continue to demand accountability.

Joined by families who still cling to photographs of loved ones they lost inside nursing homes during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Queens Assemblyman Ron Kim touted new legislation outside the Governor’s Midtown office on Sept. 29, but not without criticizing Governor Kathy Hochul in the process.

The governor’s office located on 633 Third Ave. saw a crowd of angry constituents gathered in front of its entranceway on Wednesday with a clear message: Cuomo’s resignation last month was not accountability.

Although the rally was publicized as the announcement of a new proposed victim compensation fund that looks to allow families of those who perished inside nursing homes to receive monetary reimbursement for wrongful deaths, Kim and activist group Voices for Seniors did not wait long before also letting loose on both the previous and current governors.

Assembly member Ron Kim touts new legislation. Photo by Dean Moses 
Assembly member Ron Kim embraces Voices for Senior members. Photo by Dean Moses

While some lampooned Cuomo for attempting to escape justice by resigning, they also charged that Hochul’s silence during that time made her complicit.

Both Kim and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (who’s exploring a run for governor in 2022) noted that, since the beginning of the pandemic, they repeatedly called out the former governor for what they say was reckless and negligent actions — such as an order issued on March 25, 2020 which allowed COVID-19-positive seniors to be readmitted into nursing homes and other care facilities.

State officials had suggested that the order was necessary to free up hospital space at the height of the pandemic, as the infected seniors were no longer considered contagious.

“Now, I find it sad and disturbing that we’re outside, not inside with the governor to discuss this proposal and other pending issues surrounding the state’s mishandling of nursing homes,” Kim said. “The families are still reduced to being on the streets fighting for accountability and justice. This is disturbing because the political establishment, like Kathy Hochul and Brian Benjamin are reaping the benefits of the pains and traumas of the families.”

Kim implied that Cuomo had actually resigned “to avoid accountability for his March 25, 2020 death order.” In fact, Cuomo stepped down on Aug. 24, 2021 after becoming embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal.

Many still lug photos of loved ones as a reminder that they did not make it through the pandemic. Photo by Dean Moses 
Many still lug photos of loved ones as a reminder that they did not make it through the pandemic. Photo by Dean Moses

If passed, the Nursing Home Victims Act will be the first ever victim’s compensation fund and holds the state and for-profit nursing home industries accountable for the wrongful death of a family member during the pandemic. In addition it will amend the state’s definition of wrongful death and statute of limitations to help victims seek justice through the courts. 

Kim estimates $4 billion for the compensation fund and states that it also prevents future constraints on liability for nursing homes, ensuring nothing like this occurs again.

This legislation means a great deal to attending individuals such as Tanya Dupree, who told amNewYork Metro that her mother, Sallie, was initially only supposed to spend two weeks in a rehabilitation center for her atrial fibrillation heart condition—but then she caught COVID-19.

Voices for Seniors gathered outside the Governor’s office. Photo by Dean Moses
Tears were shed as memories were rekindled. Photo by Dean Moses

“She caught COVID, and by the time we were able to rush her out to NewYork-Presbyterian, we were told that there was nothing they can do and we had to come and say goodbye. That next day we said goodbye, and the third day she was moved into hospice and then 30 minutes later she died,” Dupree said. “My mother did not go into the rehabilitation center with COVID. She had other ailments, but she didn’t have COVID.”

Reports have found that approximately 15,000 seniors died, and activists affirm that this was a direct result of Cuomo’s directive.  While Kim was grateful for the full transparency of the numbers of seniors who perished during the height of the pandemic, he believes this effort is not enough.

“What the new governor can do, if she wants to be a part of that, is acknowledge the wrong that occurred by everyone who was involved, by all the people who were silent and to apologize on behalf of the state for that, to provide the transparency that is necessary, to not continue the wrong things that happened before and put some money on the table to compensate for people’s pain,”  Williams said.

In response to these claims, Hazel Crampton-Hays, press secretary from Governor’s office had this to say: 

“Governor Hochul is grateful to the thousands of health care workers that stepped up and got vaccinated to keep themselves, their families, and their patients safe. As the first-in-the-nation vaccine mandate for health care workers went into effect to protect New Yorkers, Governor Hochul signed an executive order to expand the eligible health care workforce to ensure that patient care is prioritized first and foremost, and to ensure that tools are available for facilities to use only if necessary to supplement available staff. Governor Hochul is committed to transparency and restoring trust in government, and we look forward to working with the legislature and advocates on these priorities.” 

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. Photo by Dean Moses
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is questioned regarding his bid for Governor. Photo by Dean Moses