Op-ed: Children of nursing home COVID victims still waiting on gov’s apology

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in New York
Firemen don personal protective equipment as they enter the Cobble Hill Health Center nursing home, one of the worst hit residences by the pandemic in Kings County.
REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

We knew last year that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s March 2020 directive to place COVID-positive hospital patients into nursing homes was based not on science or common sense, but rather on his misplaced desire not to “discriminate” against the infected. We knew, because our father, Norman Arbeeny, was an 89-year-old victim of the governor’s nursing home directive.

Finally, in recent weeks, the governor has come under fire for his fatal mistake. Attorney General Tish James put out a report that concluded that he understated the number of nursing home deaths by as much as 50 percent and last week, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, the second-most powerful person in New York State government, admitted the administration hid the true numbers.

This has all met with growing calls for investigations, subpoenas and resignations. We’ll leave that to the appropriate government officials and agencies. We, the children of Cuomo’s nursing home victims, are still waiting for a simple apology.

In response to his cover-up, several months ago we staged a mock funeral for Cuomo’s leadership and integrity. Mourners gathered outside the Brooklyn nursing home where our father contracted the virus that killed him. Since then, the families of the thousands of nursing home patients who perished from the virus have asked the governor to acknowledge his error and offer an apology. All we’ve ever asked for was an apology, but he has bitterly refused. He has castigated his critics as politically motivated when we’re simply grieving family members (and, in many cases, his own voters) and told us to seek an apology from the federal government instead.

Our family has set out on a mission to expose how Cuomo has turned his back on his own constituency in an effort to whitewash his bungled response to the pandemic. 

As lifelong Democrats, we know that the need to ascertain the full impact of the directive is not politically motivated. A proper investigation, whether by the free press or the state, or both, is just the right thing to do. Failure to investigate his directive and its impact implicates the state’s entire elected leadership and my political party that monopolizes it. But that is for others to demand and conduct. We simply repeat our request for an in-person apology from the governor.

We are also appalled that he found the time to write a book about his supposed leadership during the pandemic. On Nov. 16, the governor stated, “The key is to be strong and secure enough to admit your mistakes and admit your shortcomings, don’t get defensive. Denying the mistake only assures repeating the mistake.” The hypocrisy is stunning.

In his book, he admits no mistakes or wrongdoing but rather reaffirms his egocentric mentality and gives readers an insight through his own narcissistic lens. On page 174, the governor writes, “It still amazes and heartens me that people just wanted the truth, competence, and confidence from their leaders.”

Ironically enough, this is what New Yorkers are waiting to receive from him – the “truth” on the true death toll, “competence” in having a fair investigation, and “confidence” that the governor will someday own up to his failures.

From pages 227-233, the he discusses the devastation in nursing homes but fails ever to apologize or take responsibility. He makes a mockery of our lost loved ones. He suggests the backlash against his nursing home order amounts to nothing more than a Republican conspiracy theory. What do dead constituents or indefensible directives have to do with party politics? Our father is gone, yet the governor sees fit only to shift blame.

COVID knows no political party — it does not discriminate. The governor is the only one politicizing the death toll.

Our grieving family — and tens of thousands of others just like us — having lost elderly loved ones to Cuomo’s nursing home policies, need humility and empathy from our leaders. Not deflection. We need to hear an honest acknowledgment of personal responsibility. We need Cuomo to own up to his decisions without scapegoating others. Our families need a sincere apology to allow us all to heal.

Without it, he insults every family affected by COVID-19.

Daniel and Peter Arbeeny are fourth-generation Cobble Hill, Brooklyn residents. Their father, Norman, died last year after he caught COVID-19 in a Brooklyn nursing home.