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Cuomo said he would use the National Guard to redeploy unused ventilators and personal protective equipment to hospitals in greatest need.
Some upstate hospital officials and politicians reacted with great concern to this plan.
When the plan changed, hospital executives who had been concerned said they were happy to work with the state on a collaborative, voluntary basis.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul has been talking to news outlets across New York State about the Covid-19 crisis.
In a recent appearance on WIVB-TV in Buffalo, she talked about the availability of ventilators.
Anchor Luke Moretti asked Hochul: "What’s the situation with the ventilators? I know there was that bit of a back and forth between upstate, downstate a little while ago? Where do we stand right now? Are we in good shape with ventilators?"
"Well, we always have been in good shape with ventilators," Hochul replied. Gov. Andrew Cuomo "was simply trying to get an inventory to see if there are communities where there is a surplus of ventilators and he was simply saying if we can share 20 percent of your excess, your non-used ventilators, to help people in other parts of the state on a voluntary basis, that would be great. And, of course, there was a reaction to that, which was not positive, and that’s unfortunate, because I think that we always respond in a way that we look out for each other."
She further described how first responders pitch in during snowstorms in other parts of the state, adding "we were never going to leave anyone in Western New York without the support they need." She also said the urgent need for ventilators has subsided somewhat because of shipments of the breathing equipment from other states and China.
We were struck that she said Cuomo was "simply saying" that hospitals could share their ventilators on a "voluntary" basis.
Cuomo made clear during his daily briefing on April 3 that he intended to sign an executive order that would allow the state to move unused ventilators from one part of the state to another.
The headline the Cuomo administration wrote on the day of the announcement indicated as much: "Amid Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, Governor Cuomo Announces Executive Order Allowing State to Redistribute Ventilators & Personal Protective Equipment to Hospitals with Highest Need."
During a press briefing, Cuomo said that more ventilators were necessary to meet the state’s needs, and that he has been working with suppliers in China.
"But we are going to have to redeploy ventilators from across the system," he said. "In other words, there are hospitals that have ventilators. There are hospitals that have (personal protective) equipment. There are private-sector companies that have PPE equipment that they are not using that we are going to need to redeploy to the places in the hospitals where we need them," he said.
Cuomo also acknowledged during the briefing that hospital administrators who would lose ventilators under his plan are upset. "I had a conversation with a hospital administrator yesterday," he said. "I understand they don't want to give up their ventilators. Ventilators are expensive pieces of equipment. I understand that, even if they're not using them, they are reluctant to see them go out the door. The theory is if the government gets them, they will never get them back. I understand that. But I don't have an option."
He added later: "I'm going to sign an executive order that says the state can take ventilators and (personal protective equipment) from institutions that don't need them now and redeploy them to other parts of the state and other hospitals that do need them. Those institutions will either get their ventilator back or they will be reimbursed and paid for their ventilator so they can buy a new ventilator."
He was asked later in that briefing about how many the state would need to redeploy, and he said the state hadn’t done that calculation, but he added several hundred ventilators could be available.
"So am I willing to deploy the National Guard and inconvenience people for several hundred lives? You’re damn right I am," Cuomo said.
Reaction to the plan was swift, with upstate hospital executives and elected officials expressing their concerns.
Jody Lomeo, chief executive officer of Kaleida Health and chair-elect of the Greater New York Hospital Association, said that he was opposed to the executive order and would "welcome and encourage us all to develop a more collaborative plan."
Thomas Quatroche Jr., Erie County Medical Center’s chief executive officer and chair of the Healthcare Association of New York State, said Cuomo’s executive order, as announced, would "place our patients and community at risk."
The following day, April 4, Cuomo talked about taking 20 percent of a hospital’s unused ventilators.
The executive order that Cuomo described on April 3 was never signed.
On April 6, HANYS, the hospital group, said that it understood that any redeployment of equipment would be on a voluntary basis.
On April 7, Cuomo signed an executive order leaving the movement of medical supplies and equipment up to the state Department of Health. It does not mention the National Guard nor 20 percent of available inventory. It states: "DOH may shift any such items not currently needed, or needed in the short term future by a health care facility, to be transferred to a facility in urgent need of such inventory, for purposes of ensuring New York hospitals, facilities and health care workers have the resources necessary to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and distribute them where there is an immediate need."
Quatroche Jr., of ECMC and HANYS, said: "We are pleased the governor’s executive order gives the commissioner of health the ability to work collaboratively with hospitals to identify needs across New York State and provide resources in ‘real time.’"
Hochul's answer to Moretti, the news broadcaster, came on April 8, one day after Cuomo signed an executive order that hospital executives found to be more cooperative than how the governor initially described it. We reached out to Hochul’s office, and her spokesperson, Bryan Lesswing, said: "The lieutenant governor was giving a status update on New York State's close coordination with hospitals to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, calling for state unity not division, and reinforcing Western New York's preparedness. Any other characterization is simply untrue and an unfair attack while New York State government officials have been consistently transparent in keeping New Yorkers updated with the latest facts."
Hochul’s office also said that there was nothing contradictory in what Hochul said because the state was indeed working with hospitals to share equipment on a voluntary basis, and that she was speaking broadly about the current status with ventilators and then talked about the dialogue between upstate and downstate in Moretti’s question.
Hochul said Cuomo was simply saying that hospitals could share 20 percent of their unused ventilators on a voluntary basis.
That’s not how hospital executives and other elected officials heard Cuomo describe his initial plan, thus explaining the immediate backlash. And those who listened to the governor’s televised briefing heard him say this: "So am I willing to deploy the National Guard and inconvenience people for several hundred lives? You’re damn right I am."
Parsing that quote to find any semblance of "voluntary" is beyond challenging.
Cuomo said the state would move hospital equipment from one part of the state to harder-hit areas that desperately needed them because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
When the plan changed, after significant backlash, hospitals and others praised the administration for acting collaboratively.
Hochul misled viewers about what happened.
We rate this claim Pants on Fire.
WIVB.com, video, "Watch: Interview with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul," April 8, 2020. Accessed April 9, 2020.
NY.gov, transcript, "Amid Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, Governor Cuomo Announces Executive Order Allowing State to Redistribute Ventilators & Personal Protective Equipment to Hospitals with Highest Need," April 3, 2020. Accessed April 9, 2020.
Rev.com, transcript, "Gov Andrew Cuomo New York COVID-19 Briefing April 3: NY Passes 100,000 Cases," April 3, 2020. Accessed April 11, 2020.
Rev.com, transcript, "Andrew Cuomo COVID-19 Briefing Transcript April 4: China Donating 1,000 Ventilators to New York," April 4, 2020. Accessed April 10, 2020.
Email interview, Haley Viccaro, spokesperson, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul’s office, April 10, 2020.
Email interview, Bryan Lesswing, spokesperson, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul’s office, April 10, 11, 2020.
NY.gov, Executive Order 202.14, April 7, 2020. Accessed April 10, 2020.
Washington Post, article, "Cuomo’s coronavirus orders vex hospitals afraid to surrender ventilators, take on more patients," April 7, 2020. Accessed April 10, 2020.
WBFO, story, "Governor's ventilator order not sitting well with WNY lawmakers, hospital leaders," April 3, 2020. Accessed April 10, 2020.
The Buffalo News, story, "Cuomo backs off plan to take unused ventilators from upstate hospitals," April 7, 2020. Accessed April 10, 2020.
Democrat and Chronicle, story, "New York hospitals will make unused ventilators available, but voluntarily," April 8, 2020. Accessed April 10, 2020.
WCAX, story, "Stefanik pleased with change to Cuomo’s executive order," April 8, 2020. Accessed April 11, 2020.
Healthcare Association of New York State, news release, "HANYS announces voluntary ventilator redistribution plan to support statewide COVID-19 response," April 6, 2020. Accessed April 11, 2020.
Niagara Frontier Publications, article, "Cuomo signs executive order regarding PPE, ventilators; Lomeo: 'A real-time solution for all hospitals and health care systems in New York state'" April 8, 2020. Accessed April 13, 2020.
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