Their lack of urgency extends particularly well to the ongoing need for a comprehensive, independent, top-down examination of New York's response to COVID-19 — including its costs, what we did right, and equally if not more importantly, where things went wrong. </p><div> <!-- theme template: --> <p>Senator O'Mara provides his weekly view on the many challenges and key issues facing the legislature, as well as legislative actions, local initiatives, state programs and policies, and more. Stop by every Monday to watch Senator O'Mara's last column...
this week, “Why don’t we re-examine New York’s response to COVID-19?”
At a recent meeting of the State Senate Committee on Aging, one of the most effective watchdogs of New York State’s response to COVID-19 provided an important reminder of the unfinished business that our state faces.
While Governor Cathy Hochhol and the Democratic majority in the legislature have been preoccupied with things like jamming legislation in an attempt to undo yet another political disaster of their own making — this time to clear the way for impeached Deputy Governor Brian Benjamin to be removed from the ballot — they have remained alarmingly silent about the most important priorities.
Their lack of urgency extends particularly well to the ongoing need for a comprehensive, independent, top-down examination of New York’s response to COVID-19 — including its costs, what we did right, and equally if not more importantly, where things went wrong.
Testifying before the Committee on Aging, Bill Hammond of the Empire Center for Public Policy, whose research and analysis throughout the first and most brutal months of the pandemic have sounded countless alarms, said: “The key to better preparedness is learning from experience. The state needs a thorough and thorough investigation. In its response to the pandemic – it is being perfectly conducted by a panel of independent experts. Otherwise, there is a risk that the invaluable lessons of this inestimable disaster will be wasted.”
Lessons will be in vain.
Timing is urgent.
“There are dozens of issues across multiple agencies and multiple layers of government that warrant analysis and reform,” Hammond says. “Now is the time to get it done, while the memories are fresh and the money is available.”
Once again, he is right.
Governor Hochul has the power to set up an independent study committee at any time, yet the administration seems tepid, at best, for taking such a step. Likewise with the Democratic majority in the Senate and the Assembly that has repeatedly ignored calls from our Republican conventions to highlight the many layers of the COVID-19 response.
The best evidence of their reluctance is the fact that the new state budget, despite being New York’s largest spending plan ever, does not take any steps or devote any serious resources to a re-examination of this kind.
An investigation should not be about pointing fingers or exposing officials, past or present. It has to be about understanding what went wrong and devising systems to get things right in the future,” Hammond continued in his testimony.
In other words, this cannot and should not be a political manhunt. It has to be about fact-finding. It should be about highlighting what appear to be successful businesses, so that the country can build on and strengthen that success. You should also identify what went wrong and why, so that New York can take whatever steps are needed to shore up weaknesses, fix deficiencies, and fill in loopholes.
Moreover, taxpayers deserve an accurate, transparent, and easily accessible account of the massive emergency state expenditures on the COVID-19 response.
In early March, for example, State Comptroller Thomas Dinnapoli released a new, albeit limited, audit focused on nursing homes, revealing that “in several key indicators, New York lagged significantly behind other states in a nursing home survey.” elderly and developing strategies to stop the spread of infection in facilities.
What happened in nursing homes, the loss of more than 15,000 lives, has emerged as a tragedy for this pandemic. This was also the country’s gravest failure.
According to the Comptroller, “The pandemic has been devastating and deadly for New Yorkers living in nursing homes…The results of our audit are deeply disturbing. The public has been misled by those at the highest level of state government by distorting and suppressing facts when New Yorkers deserved the truth.” The pandemic is not over, and I hope the current administration will make changes to improve accountability and protect lives.”
As a result of the audit, the Controller recommended, among other actions, the following:
- The Executive Chamber evaluates and improves the internal control environment, including improving cooperation with state supervision inquiries, communicating with localities, and preparing external reports; And that
- The Department of Health is expanding its use of infection control data to identify patterns, trends, and areas of concern or non-compliance that will help make policy recommendations for infection control practices and nursing home surveys; improve the quality of public data reported; Enhance communication and coordination with localities on the collection, reporting and use of infection control data.
Audits like these deserve to be extensive and at the agency level. It is the only course of action that can make us better prepared.
The COVID-19 response has spread across the entire New York bureaucracy — education, health care across all of its sectors, unemployment, housing, social services, criminal justice, you name it — and has consumed vast state and federal resources.
It was unprecedented and deserves a difficult, honest and direct re-examination.
This re-examination should be a top priority for Governor Hoechul and Democratic leaders in the legislature.
Right now, they did nothing but turn their backs on her.