US-NEWS-CALIF-DEPUTYKILLED-MCT

Dreamstime/TNS

ALBANY — The state Health Department must release COVID-19 data reported by New York’s nursing home operators within five business days after a state Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of a Capital Region senator’s lawsuit Wednesday to force the department to release the records.

State Supreme Court Judge Kimberly A. O’Connor ruled in favor of the lawsuit filed by independent think tank Empire Center for Public Policy and Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration and the state Health Department in September.

The department must disclose the requested COVID-19 nursing home data, including the deaths of nursing home residents who were transferred to hospitals and died from virus complications within five business days, according to the ruling.

The state is mandated to pay for Empire Center’s legal fees.

“I want to thank Justice O’Connor for her ruling that demonstrates that this nursing home data is public information and the people have a right to know what their government is doing,” Tedisco said in a statement announcing the ruling Wednesday.

Last week, the state Health Department released audited data revealing 12,743 total COVID-19 deaths of skilled nursing facility residents from March 1, 2020, through Jan. 19, 2021, including 9,786 confirmed virus fatalities — 5,957 within nursing facilities and 3,829 in hospitals — and 2,957 presumed virus nursing home deaths.

The department released the numbers in response to a report by state Attorney General Letitia James made public last week that concluded state health officials reported as much as half the total number of COVID-19 fatalities in nursing homes.

The state Health Department has delayed the Empire Center and Tedisco’s Freedom of Information Law requests for the data three times, according to a statement from Tedisco’s office Wednesday.

Tedisco filed an amicus brief to the Empire Center for Public Policy’s lawsuit against the state Health Department for refusing to release complete COVID-19 death data of nursing home residents.

“With the preliminary audit complete, we were already in the process of responding to the their FOIL request, and updating DOH’s website with publicly available information,” state Health Department spokesman Gary Holmes said in a statement Wednesday.

Judge O’Connor granted Tedisco’s application to appear as amicus curiae, or impartial adviser, on the Empire Center’s case.

“Gov. Cuomo’s coronavirus cover-up is crumbling down,” Tedisco said. “It’s obvious that the governor’s six-month cover-up and refusal to give us these numbers shows he felt they mattered so he could hide any blame. History has shown that the cover-up is often worse than what’s being covered-up. Sadly, a lack of transparency has been a hallmark of this administration.”

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

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