Families honor nursing home dead with new memorial, blast Cuomo

Family members organized a tribute to those who died from COVID-19 in nursing homes outside Cobble Hill Health Center on March 21.
Photo by Caroline Ourso

Mourners erected a memorial wall outside the Cobble Hill Health Center on Henry Street Sunday, paying tribute to the thousands of nursing home residents who died of COVID-19, while slamming the governor for issuing the state order that sent sick elders back into the care facilities nearly one year ago.

“A third grader would know not to send COVID patients in with grandma,” said Dawn Best, whose mother died of the virus at a nursing home on Long Island. “[Gov. Andrew Cuomo] basically inflicted an unimaginable horror on the most vulnerable amongst us. He did so knowingly and after it happened he hid the numbers so that he would look good for his book that was coming out.”

The March 21 protest and unveiling of the “We Care Memorial Wall” came days ahead of the anniversary of the Department of Health’s notorious March 25 directive to send senior New Yorkers infected with COVID-19 back into nursing homes, exposing the state’s most vulnerable population to the deadly disease.

Visitors gaze at the memorial wall outside Cobble Hill Health Center on March 21.Photo by Caroline Ourso

Family members and activists installed the collection of photos, messages, and flowers outside the long-term care facility between Congress and Warren streets to remember the more than 15,000 nursing home residents who died of the coronavirus.

The relatives demanded accountability from Cuomo, who faces a probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigations over his administration’s handling of the pandemic within nursing homes, along with separate inquiries by state Attorney General Letitia James and the Assembly about sexual harassment allegations by several former staffers.

“We lost thousands of our loved ones, I lost four of my family members in one week,” said Daniel Arbeeny at the gathering. “Justice is just as important as forgiving and we as family members need to see justice.”

Arbeeny’s 89-year-old father Norman died just days after being released from the Cobble Hill home, a 300-bed facility which in April had 55 COVID deaths, at the time the highest known death count of all nursing homes in the state.

Aram Bauman, left, and Peter Arbeeny whose parents were nursing home patients who died from COVID-19.Photo by Caroline Ourso

The Cuomo administration withheld the full coronavirus death toll for nursing home residents for months by only including those who died inside the long-term care facilities, not the patients who passed away after being transferred to a hospital. Following a court order and a report by James’ office in January, the Department of Health included those outside deaths in the toll, which jumped from about 8,700 to 15,000 as a result.

Cuomo’s top advisers reportedly pushed state officials to doctor the numbers as early as July, around the same time the politico was writing his soon-to-be bestselling book about his time governing the state hit hard by the virus.

Several of the family members behind Sunday’s protest also held a “funeral” for Cuomo’s leadership and integrity in October, at the time deriding the governor’s book as a publicity stunt.

Many attended the March 21 memorial service.Photo by Caroline Ourso

One Staten Islander whose grandfather died in a nursing home in that borough said Cuomo deserves to go be put behind bars for his administration’s actions.

“He really does deserve to go to prison, it’s not political it’s just the truth,” said Anthony Messina. “He killed people, he’s an arrogant type of dictator.”

Additional reporting by Caroline Ourso