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OPINION

COVID nursing home deaths: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is running from his part in my dad's death

Nothing about how our seniors have been treated during this pandemic has been "beautiful." New York's COVID-19 death count has a very ugly dark side.

Tracey Alvino
Opinion contributor

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called his and the state's handling of the coronavirus “beautiful.” My dad being placed on a ventilator wasn’t beautiful.

My brother sleeping in the hospital parking lot just so he could be close to Dad wasn’t beautiful. 

Standing by helpless while Dad’s organs failed one-by-one, wasn’t beautiful. 

Making the decision to take Dad off the machines wasn’t beautiful. 

My father dying all alone wasn’t beautiful. 

The Cuomo administration denying my father's family and community a proper funeral, wasn't beautiful.

Comforting my grieving mother every single day because she doesn’t want dad to be dead isn’t beautiful. 

Hearing Cuomo blame these deaths on God, former President Donald Trump, Mother Nature, the media, the nursing home staff, and arguably even the nursing home patients themselves, wasn't beautiful.

Knowing Cuomo respond, “Who cares?” when speaking about the thousands of seniors who died and were not properly counted wasn't beautiful.

Nothing about the inhumane way our seniors were treated by the Cuomo administration was beautiful. It should be criminal. 

My father's horrible, preventable death

My father, Daniel Alvino, had a huge personality. He was a veteran, a football fanatic, and his family meant the world to him. His booming laugh would be the highlight of every holiday, as well as the table full of food he took delight in presenting to his guests. My dad taught me from a young age the importance of being generous by helping needy children afford to play sports by funding their fees and buying their equipment. I know everyone says that their dad is the best, but mine really was the best man a daughter could ever want as a role model. 

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In March 2020, he was placed into a rehabilitation facility in a New York nursing home after neck surgery. In phone conversations with him, he told us he was neglected and abused.  

As the staff feared getting sick, he was made to eat with his face down in a dish like a dog because the aide refused to help him. He sat in his waste for hours on end. He didn’t even have his teeth brushed for days. Then, on March 25, the Cuomo administration ordered recovering coronavirus patients to be placed into nursing homes and forbid nursing homes from requiring patients to be tested. Sadly, my father was exposed to COVID-19 and started to show symptoms.

Daniel Alvino in West Islip, New York, in December 2019.

At the end of March, the facility told us he was well enough to come home. My family immediately caught the virus and my father was so sick he had to be rushed to a hospital. On April 14, 2020, Dad died of COVID-19 at the age of 76.

New York hides the damage

Now we know Cuomo wasn't counting my father as among the deaths associated with nursing homes.

The New York Attorney General's Office released a report in January that said the state may be undercounting COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents by as much as 50% because it doesn't include residents who were transferred to hospitals. That means the true death toll of New York nursing home residents is around 13,000 people, as opposed to the state's 8,677 figure.

On Thursday, the Cuomo administration's deception became even more despicable. The governor's top aide admitted they froze the count of nursing home-related deaths because they thought it would make the administration look bad in an ongoing federal investigation. This is according to the reporting of multiple publications, based on anonymous sources and transcripts.

I was happy, sad, and angry all at the same time. My family and so many other families have demanded these numbers for months, but the governor and his administration dismissed us.  Cuomo said the only reason we want a complete picture of these numbers is because we are politically motivated

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I am the assistant director of the group, Voices for Seniors, which is made up of families just like mine: We are different ages, races, genders, religions, and political ideologies. We stand together united to get accountability, justice, and reform. There is nothing political when it comes to Cuomo's lethal policies and the mass death of seniors.  

Tracey Alvino and her father, Daniel Alvino, in Bohemia, New York, in October 2018.

If Cuomo and his administration has nothing to hide, why not allow for an independent investigation? Why is the Health Commissioner Howard Zucker trying to avoid blame? As a result of his Health department's directive, more than 6,000 patients with the virus were sent to nursing homes. That action likely sentenced many seniors, like my father, to death, and it certainly sentenced families to a lifetime of heartache, anguish, and pain. 

My mom intends to take legal action against the nursing home my dad was staying in. For my own part, I want to hold Cuomo responsible. 

Hold political leaders accountable

The only thing more devastating than the loss of our loved ones has been the continued disrespect we families have received at the hands of the Cuomo administration. 

If it’s not Cuomo equating his father’s natural death to deaths caused by his administration's grossly negligent order, it’s his senior adviser Rich Azzopardi referring to us grieving families in November as a “death cult” as we seek answers. Cuomo may have won an Emmy, but I believe I should have won an Emmy for pretending like I’m OK every day when I feel like I am dying inside since my father’s preventable death. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has urged New Yorkers to wear masks.

What kind of society would we be if we don’t learn from this tragedy and put measures in place to prevent it from ever happening again? We can fix this, but first we need an independent investigation to determine exactly what went wrong. Then we can work on making sure our seniors are protected, respected, and treated with dignity. 

My father’s death and the deaths of thousands of seniors will not be in vain. We want Andrew Cuomo and Howard Zucker to answer for their decisions and we want legislation so that a tragedy of this magnitude never happens again. Now is the time to stop playing a game of political football and simply do the right thing. Our seniors trust us to care for them; we cannot fail them again. 

Tracey Alvino is a teacher and lives in Babylon, New York. She is the assistant director of Voices for Seniors.