Politico

RGA looking to tie Cuomo, Murphy together on nursing homes


Republicans are hoping the stench of scandal from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will waft across the Hudson River and engulf New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy as he seeks reelection this year.

The Republican Governors Association has sent Murphy’s administration a public records request seeking exchanges between the two Democratic governors and their staffs “regarding nursing homes and long-term care facilities.”

“Last month, it was revealed that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo lied to the American people during the COVID-19 crisis. Governor Cuomo and his staff tried to cover up the actual number of those who died because of his policies,” RGA Executive Director Dave Rexrode wrote in the request. “On March 31, 2020, the New Jersey Department of Health issued a directive that mirrored Governor Cuomo’s mandate in New York by ordering nursing homes and long-term care facilities to admit untested COVID-19 patients and prohibiting a denial of admission based solely on a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, among other failures.”

The request, sent Thursday, also seeks internal Murphy administration communications and all exchanges — not just those related to nursing homes — between the Murphy and Cuomo administrations between Aug. 12, 2020, and Sept. 20, 2020. That’s when the Justice Department requested information on four state policies, including those from New York and New Jersey, to require nursing homes to readmit Covid-19 patients.

The RGA’s request is likely to be denied, as New Jersey’s public records laws include a wide exemption for executive communications. But it’s clearly intended to make a political point, and is similar to one recent public records request by New Jersey Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli.

The Murphy administration did not respond to a request for comment.

Cuomo is under fire after the New York attorney general found the state underreported deaths of nursing home residents by not including those who died in the hospital. There’s no evidence the Murphy administration did something similar.

At a press conference last week, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said “the deaths are categorized by residence, so they are definitely categorized as a nursing home death.”

New Jersey did require nursing homes to readmit Covid-positive patients who were released from the hospital, a controversial decision at the time. But the March 31 order from the state Department of Health was couched by additional guidance from Persichilli that facilities should notify the department if they didn’t have adequate personal protective equipment, staff or facilities to readmit residents with Covid-19.

While Cuomo’s order contained similar instructions regarding PPE needs, there was less flexibility for facilities to avoid its intent.

The total number of reported long-term care deaths in New Jersey fluctuated after facilities protested the early numbers being reported by the state included those that hadn’t been lab-confirmed for coronavirus. Last June, New Jersey added a new category of “probable” Covid-19 deaths — including hundreds in long-term care — that currently stands at close to 2,400.

According to the state’s dashboard, more than 7,900 long-term care residents and staff have died of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic last March. Long-term care facilities include nursing home, veterans homes, assisted living facilities and facilities for the disabled.

Republicans on Friday will begin hearings on the effects of the pandemic in New Jersey’s nursing homes and state-run veterans homes as well as other aspects of the state’s response to the health crisis. Murphy administration officials have thus far declined to participate in the hearings.

While New Jersey has lost more than 23,000 residents to Covid-19 and has the highest per capita death rate in the nation, the limited amount of public polling available shows Murphy remaining popular. The most recent public poll of Murphy’s performance, conducted in October by the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, showed his approval rating at 62 percent.

Meanwhile, Ciattarelli, the likely GOP gubernatorial nominee, has also attempted to draw parallels between the sexual harassment scandal Cuomo is facing to previous Murphy administration scandals.

Three women have publicly accused Cuomo of sexual harassment or unwanted advances. Though Murphy has never been personally accused of that, administration staffer Katie Brennan in 2018 alleged she was sexually assaulted during Murphy’s 2017 gubernatorial campaign by campaign staff member Al Alvarez, but that campaign and administration officials did not take her allegation seriously and ultimately hired Alvarez for a high-ranking position.

The scandal led to months of legislative hearings and several bills designed to reform how the state handles sexual assault and harassment complaints.

After declining to comment on the Cuomo allegations last week, Murphy on Monday said they were “concerning.”

Ciattarelli has fundraised off the allegations. An email from his campaign Thursday morning said that “Jack would never stand for this type of disgusting behavior and neither should you!”

“Not only has Murphy refused to say anything about his best friend Cuomo, over the past three and half years he has allowed it to happen right here in New Jersey,” Ciattarelli said in the email.

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