Hochul apologizes to families of nursing home COVID victims


Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday held a closed-door meeting with relatives of nursing home residents killed by COVID-19 — and apologized to them for the pain caused by her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo’s, handling of the crisis, The Post has learned.

The families, led by Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens), presented the governor with a list of demands, including elder-care reforms and that the state own up for its controversial directive believed to have increased the death toll among nursing home residents.

“At the very top of the meeting, after we introduced ourselves, she (Hochul) leaned in pretty hard and opened up with an apology to the families about what they had to go through as a result of these policies,” Kim said.

“It was obviously a private apology, but I think it really touched the families. That’s something they’ve been asking for — to be treated decently as human beings.”

A patient is loaded into an ambulance by emergency medical workers outside Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn.
AP Photo/John Minchillo, File

He added: “It was a genuine, empathetic moment that stood out to us.”

It was a stark change from the behavior of Cuomo’s lackeys, the lawmaker said.

“There wasn’t an inkling of dismissiveness or her saying that we don’t have the facts — as the previous governor used to be — there was no dismissiveness in her tone.”

The families and Kim, whose uncle died of suspected COVID-19 last year in a nursing home, had been requesting a sit-down with Hochul since she took over following Cuomo’s resignation in late August.

Haydee Pabey holds a picture of the deceased Elba Pabey as demonstrators gather for a rally decrying New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's handling of nursing homes during the previous years outbreak of COVID-19
Haydee Pabey holds a picture of the deceased Elba Pabey as demonstrators gather for a rally decrying former Governor Andrew Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes during COVID-19, March 25, 2021.
AP Photo/John Minchillo
Janice Dean attends the "Fox & Friends" naturalization ceremony for Veterans Day at Fox News Channel Studios on November 11, 2019 in New York City.
Janice Dean lost both her mother and father-in-law to COVID-19 in March and April 2020.
Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

The roughly hour-long meeting on Tuesday afternoon took place at the governor’s Manhattan offices and was “very emotional” with “lots of crying going on,” Kim said.

Other attendees included Alexa Rivera, whose sister Vivian Zayas founded the advocacy group Voices for Seniors after losing their mom Ana Martinez to COVID-19 in a nursing home, and Fox News meteorologist and elder-care advocate Janice Dean, who lost both her mother and father-in-law to the virus in March and April 2020, respectively.

“Even though it’s been 19 months, it still feels raw and fresh. We still feel like our family members just passed yesterday,” Rivera told The Post.

“For the first time since we began our quest for accountability on behalf of our families that died from Covid in nursing homes last spring, we met today with @GovKathyHochul,” Dean wrote on Twitter. “It was a small step but an important one to get answers. It would not have happened without @rontkim.”

The group requested an announcement from the state that the Department of Health’s March 25, 2020 mandate that nursing homes admit coronavirus patients had “led to thousands of untimely and unnecessary deaths.”

Other demands included:

  • That Hochul support a “bipartisan investigation with subpoena power into the nursing home crisis”;
  • That she release all remaining nursing home data and pending Freedom of Information Law requests;
  • That she direct the DOH to conduct a “re-audit” of all COVID-related nursing home deaths;
  • Pass a bill creating a nursing home victims compensation fund;
  • and that she dedicate a “nursing home victim memorial.”

“It was a good first meeting and they committed to continue to work with us on our requests,” Kim said, adding that governor’s staff also spoke with the group to discuss details of the requests following the face-to-face.

Assemblyman Ron Kim
Assemblyman Ron Kim led the families in presenting the governor with a list of demands.
James Messerschmidt for NY Post

NYPD detective Haydee Pabey, 54, who lost her 72-year-old mother Elba Pabey to COVID-19 in a nursing home, was also at the meeting — and was thankful for Hochul’s apology.

“I was in tears, I was a mess — everybody just started crying,” Pabey recalled. “But the governor opened up the meeting very welcoming and warm. It felt good. She apologized for the pain that we have endured. She did say that they will do the best they can.”

“It was hitting a brick wall with the last administration,” Pabey added. “We had no answers and no one would get back to us.”

Peter Arbeeny (L) and Daniel Arbeeny (R) holding a photo of their father Norman Arbeeny inside their father’s home at 128 Amity Street in Brooklyn, where their father passed away due to COVID-19.
Peter Arbeeny, left, and Daniel Arbeeny holding a photo of their father Norman Arbeeny inside their father’s home in Brooklyn, where their father passed away due to COVID-19.
Kevin C. Downs

Peter Arbeeny, 55, the owner of an air conditioning business who lost his 89-year-old dad Norman Arbeeny to the virus, also appreciated the apology, but was more cautious.

“It was a good first step for a new governor,” he said. “I won’t know what it means yet until we see these promises turned into actions.”

Still, Arbeeny said, a top priority for him was seeing a re-audit of nursing home deaths, and he told The Post that Hochul had committed to getting it done. Shortly before she took office, Hochul had promised that her administration would be “very transparent” when it comes to releasing documents pertaining to COVID-19 nursing home deaths 

Daniel arbeny on left, haydee Paybe, Ron Kim, Alexa Rivera in middle, Janice Dean, Sean dean, Peter arbeny on right
Daniel Arbeny, Haydee Paybe, Assemblyman Ron Kim, Alexa Rivera, Janice Dean, Sean Dean and Peter Arbeny.
Ron Kim

Kim said the gov’s legislative director would also be working with the group on a memorial and compensation fund.

He noted that Hochul seemed inclined to get another meeting on the books once the new health commissioner, Mary Bassett, comes in, following the resignation of Cuomo appointee Howard Zucker.

Zucker was a key figure in the Cuomo administration, whose March 25, 2020 directive is blamed for putting many of the casualties of nursing homes in harm’s way by mandating that COVID-19 infected patients be sent back to nursing homes from hospitals.

Dr. Howard A. Zucker, commissioner of the New York State Department of Health, speaks during a news conference on coronavirus vaccination at Suffolk County Community College on Monday, April 12, 2021
Dr. Howard A. Zucker resigned from his position as state health commissioner.
Michael M. Santiago/Pool via AP

He is also accused of helping Cuomo and his aides hide the pandemic’s true death toll across the state and in its nursing homes.

“One thing that is clear is as soon as the new commissioner of health comes in, she personally would like to participate in a follow up discussion,” Kim said.

“It’s important going forward that families have access, and an ability for them to shape policies that impact their families,” he added.

“Governor Hochul is committed to transparency and restoring trust in government, and she looks forward to working with Assemblymember Kim on these priorities,” said Hochul spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hays.

“On her first day in office, the Governor disclosed additional nursing home data, and she will continue to deliver transparency to New Yorkers on the impact of COVID-19 on nursing homes. Governor Hochul’s deep sympathy is with the families whose loved ones have been lost to the pandemic, and she appreciates Assemblymember Kim’s dedication to these important issues.”


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Kathy Lewis

Kathy Lewis is an all-around geek who loves learning new stuff every day. With a background in computer science and a passion for writing, she loves writing for almost all the sections of Editorials99.

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