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Top Cuomo officials ‘threatened’ nursing home reps during call

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Two members of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s inner circle threatened nursing-home association representatives with fines and license revocations during a heated, emergency call about COVID-19 vaccinations — even though it was based on erroneous information, sources on the call told The Post.

The call, held earlier this month, came as Cuomo has faced continuing scrutiny over his response to the health crisis in nursing homes, as well as allegations that he fosters a toxic work environment where bullying behavior permeates the upper ranks.

State Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and Beth Garvey, special counsel to the governor, used the call to threaten nursing home operators for failing to pick up vaccine shipments they supposedly ordered — only for it to emerge that their gripes were based on inaccurate information, according to sources on the call.

Two top Andrew Cuomo officials allegedly threatened nursing home representatives in a heated call, sourced revealed.
Matthew McDermott

“Why the over-the-top threatening? Why wasn’t it a phone call of ‘what are you guys hearing and are there issues getting the vaccine out?’” said one source. “You call people up with no notice, start threatening licenses and penalties — that’s your starting position? The first I heard something was wrong was on that call. Before that? Nothing.” 

At 12:54 p.m. on March 17, representatives from nursing home associations statewide received an email from state health officials requesting that they take part in a “high” priority call at 1 p.m.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaking at a press conference in New York City on November 22, 2020.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaking at a press conference in New York City on November 22, 2020.
Matthew McDermott

The email did not reveal what warranted the urgency — but when the representatives joined the call, Zucker and Garvey told them that their data showed hundreds of homes had requested shipments of the coronavirus vaccine for staff and residents, only to not pick up the doses.

“What are my options here?” asked Zucker, according to audio of a 26-minute portion of the call obtained by The Post. “There’s the option of fines. There’s the option of enforcement. There’s the option of shaming everyone and saying, ‘I can’t believe the people aren’t doing this.’

“I’m not trying to be difficult with all of you,” continued Zucker. “But the bottom line is, these are residents of these nursing homes and there are vaccines put aside for them, and the nursing home administrators need to pick them up and get them into the arms of those residents, and the staff as well. Anything shy of that is just irresponsible.”

Garvey picked up where Zucker left off.

“It is absolute malpractice to have these vaccines available and have not picked them up,” she said. “I would think that each and every medical director at these facilities should feel personal jeopardy for their medical licenses. We obviously have tools at our disposal.

“Every option is on the table, as far as issuing emergency regs, issuing fines and penalties,” she continued. “We have literally bent over backwards to try to see if the nursing homes would do the right thing. I think our only recourse at this point is to try to clean it up, because we have liability.”

Garvey went on to say that “this one time” the state would act “to solve our liability” by delivering the vaccines to the homes that had not picked them up.

The state concluded the call by promising to circulate a list of homes that had not picked up their vaccine allotments, and giving the association representatives until 5 p.m. to call the facilities and tell them to retrieve their doses under penalty of fines.

“They call you on this emergency phone call and immediately start threatening people? That’s how it starts?” one incredulous source who participated in the call told The Post. “This wasn’t the culmination of weeks of working with people not responding. This was right out of the box: Attack.”

After receiving the state’s list of more than 400 facilities that allegedly left their vaccine claims unaccounted for, the source called homes within their association — and found the state’s data misleading.

Representatives for some homes said that while they may have submitted required tallies to the state for their unvaccinated residents and staffers, that didn’t mean they needed vaccines set aside, according to the source.

Other homes said that they have already partnered with a pharmacy for their outstanding vaccine needs, had picked up their state allotments, or simply didn’t need the supplies.

As of March 29, 77 percent of nursing home residents and 56 percent of nursing home staff statewide have been vaccinated, according to state data.

The statewide rollout process has been marred by periodic issues, including vaccine shortages, and hiccups at the federal level amid the transition from former President Donald Trump to President Biden.

A second source on the call also questioned the guns-blazing approach — particularly since the state never bothered to conduct a follow-up call, as Zucker and Garvey said they would on March 19.

Gov. Cuomo holding a press conference on October, 5, 2020.
Gov. Cuomo holding a press conference on October, 5, 2020.
Matthew McDermott

“It took people by surprise and I don’t think there’s any legal basis for the threat,” said the inside. “We continued to work through the list and see what we could do to help, but we’ve heard nothing from the department.” 

The state DOH defended its hardball approach.

“The reality is some nursing homes are still failing to protect New Yorkers,” said spokesman Gary Holmes in a statement. “After the federal nursing home vaccination program ended, the state made clear to nursing homes that they had an obligation to vaccinate residents and staff going forward and offered to set aside specific allocations for them. 

“We made repeated calls, determined if they could do shots themselves or needed a third-party provider, and have asked them daily for 6.5 weeks how many doses they need,” continued Holmes. “For some inexplicable reason, hundreds of nursing homes are letting vaccine doses sit on shelves — these failures border on malpractice, which is why we’ve deputized regional hub hospitals to pick up the slack.”

The department and the Cuomo administration have faced criticism for myriad issues throughout the pandemic with respect to nursing homes, starting with an infamous March 2020 directive forbidding nursing homes from turning away residents on the sole basis of a coronavirus diagnosis.

In January, a damning report released by state Attorney General Letitia James found that the state may have undercounted the death toll among nursing home residents by as much as 50 percent.

The next month, top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa was caught on audio acknowledging to state Democratic lawmakers that the administration obscured the true death toll because it feared an investigation from the federal government.

And this month it was alleged that, during the early days of the pandemic, Cuomo arranged then-scarce coronavirus tests for relatives and members of his inner circle — as his administration rebuffed requests for tests for some nursing homes.

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NYPD releases video of gunman firing into group in the Bronx

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New video tweeted by the NYPD Sunday shows a gunman wildly firing down a Bronx street into a group of people in Fordham Manor, leaving two men wounded, cops said.

“WANTED for ASSAULT: Do you know this guy?” the NYPD wrote on Twitter.

“On 6/25/21 at approx 11:10 PM, in front of 2710 Morris Ave in the Bronx, the suspect fired several rounds towards a group, striking a 26-year-old male and a 20-year-old. Any info? DM @NYPDTips, or anonymously call them at 800-577-TIPS.”

The suspect who shot at a group of people in the Bronx on June 25, 2021.
The suspect who shot at a group of people in the Bronx on June 25, 2021.
NYPD
The suspect firing the gun in the Bronx.
The suspect firing the gun in the Bronx.
NYPD
The shooting left two people injured, according to the NYPD.
The shooting left two people injured, according to the NYPD.
NYPD

The 26-year-old was shot in the buttocks and the 20-year-old was shot in the leg, police said. Both were expected to survive.

The victims said they were standing with a group of friends when the “guy just came up and started shooting,” a police spokesman said.

No words were exchanged, video shows. 

There were no immediate arrests.

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FDA finds peeling paint, debris at US plant making J&J’s COVID vaccine

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A US plant that was making Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine must fix a long list of problems including peeling paint and unsanitary conditions and practices to resume operation, according to a highly critical report by the Food and Drug Administration.

Experts said addressing the issues raised in the scathing FDA inspection report could take months.

Neither J&J nor the FDA has said when they expect vaccine production to restart at the Baltimore plant owned by Emergent Biosolutions. Only two other plants are currently equipped to supply the world with the key drug substance for J&J’s vaccine.

“It may take many months to make these changes,” said Prashant Yadav, a global health care supply chain expert at the Center for Global Development. He described some of the issues raised by the FDA as “quite significant.”

No vaccine manufactured at the Emergent plant has been distributed for use in the United States. However, J&J said it will exercise its oversight authority to ensure that all of the FDA observations are addressed promptly and comprehensively.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was put on a pause in the US over a potential link to a blood clotting condition.
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The health care conglomerate has drawn scrutiny for months over its halting process to scale up production of a vaccine that is easier to handle and, by virtue of being a single shot, easier to use than other authorized vaccines.

Its use in the United States has been paused since last week as health officials study a possible link to a very rare but serious blood clot condition.

Emergent has been seeking regulatory authorization to make the J&J vaccine in the United States. It stopped production at the plant recently, saying the FDA had asked it to do so after an inspection.

J&J’s plant in Leiden, the Netherlands, is still producing doses for the world. It has another facility in India, which is currently curtailing exports of the shot as it struggles to vaccinate its own population.

Johnson & Johnson reiterated on Wednesday that it was working to establish a global supply chain in which 10 manufacturing sites would be involved in the production of its COVID-19 vaccine, in addition to the Leiden plant.

The company has a US government-brokered agreement with rival drugmaker Merck, which is preparing to make doses of J&J’s vaccine.

Failure to train personnel

The FDA in its final 12-page inspection report said it had reviewed security camera footage in addition to an in-person site visit to the Emergent plant.

It found a failure to train personnel to avoid cross-contamination of COVID-19 vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, which had also been produced at the site. The agency also cited staff carrying unsealed bags of medical waste in the facility, bringing it in contact with containers of material used in manufacturing.

The FDA reviewed security camera footage and visited the Emergent BioSolutions plant in Baltimore.
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Earlier this week, the House launched an investigation into whether Emergent used its relationship with a Trump administration official to get a vaccine manufacturing contract despite a record of not delivering on contracts.

Emergent said in a statement that it is working with the FDA and J&J to quickly resolve the issues outlined in the report.

Production of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not yet authorized for use in the United States, was previously stopped at the Emergent plant after ingredients from that shot contaminated a batch of J&J vaccine, ruining millions of doses.

The FDA also noted that Emergent did not produce adequate reports showing that the vaccines it was producing met quality standards.

The inspection, carried out between April 12 and April 20, also found the building not of suitable size or design to facilitate cleaning, maintenance or proper operations.

J&J said it was redoubling its efforts to get authorization for the facility as quickly as possible.

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One dead after pair of fires breaks out in Manhattan

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One person was killed and several others were injured in a pair of Manhattan fires Wednesday morning, officials said.

The first blaze erupted in Midtown around 8:15 a.m. inside a DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse at 213 W. 34th St., where an escalator became fully engulfed in flames — sending smoke billowing into the first and second floor and the interconnected 40-story hotel building, fire officials said.

It was not immediately clear which hotel it was.

Five firefighters suffered minor injuries putting out the blaze.

“The fire went out, but we have a smoke condition that we’re trying to alleviate,” FDNY Battalion Chief John Porretto said at the scene. “Units are going to remain on scene until all the smoke alleviates.”

The fire marshal will determine the causes of the fire.

A second blaze broke out 15 minutes later on the Upper East Side at 1576 2nd Ave., officials said.

A three-alarm fire at 213 W. 34th Street in Manhattan that left one dead
A three-alarm fire at 213 W. 34th St. in Manhattan left one dead.
NYFD

One man died in the fire and a second man was in serious condition at Lenox Hill Hospital, police said.

A firefighter suffered minor injuries battling the blaze and was taken to Cornell Hospital, fire officials said.

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