Linda Lacewell, the superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services and an adjunct professor at the NYU School of Law, is one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aides accused of changing a state report to conceal the number of nursing home residents who died during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City. NYU Law students now say Lacewell is unfit to teach at NYU Law.
According to a New York Times investigation, a report written by New York state health officials in mid-2020 indicated that more than 9,000 nursing home residents died due to the pandemic by June 2020. The number included residents who died in nursing homes as well as in hospitals. Lacewell and two other top Cuomo aides allegedly edited and rewrote the report — which was not yet public at the time — to include only residents who died in nursing homes.
By excluding residents who died in hospitals, they thereby reduced the reported death toll. The FBI is currently investigating whether the governor’s office presented false data to the Justice Department.
WSN reached out to Lacewell via email, but she did not directly respond to the request for comment. The email was instead directed to Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Cuomo, who referred WSN to a statement from Beth Garvey, the special counsel to the governor.
“COVID Taskforce members, including Melissa DeRosa, Linda Lacewell, and Jim Malatras, were involved in reviewing the draft report — none of them changed any of the fatality numbers or ‘altered’ the fatality data,” Garvey wrote. “After asking DOH questions as to the source of the previously unpublished data — to which there were not clear or complete answers — and probing to determine whether it was relevant to the outcome of the report, a decision was made to use the data set that was reported by the place of death with firsthand knowledge of the circumstances, which gave a higher degree of comfort in its accuracy.”
After it was revealed earlier this year that deaths of nursing home residents had been undercounted, Cuomo admitted he withheld the data fearing the administration of former President Donald Trump “might pursue a politically motivated inquiry into the state’s handling of the outbreak in nursing homes,” as The New York Times previously reported.
Lacewell previously worked as a chief of staff and counselor to Cuomo, where she oversaw matters of law enforcement and ethics. She also worked as a chief risk officer, where she created the “first statewide system for ethics, risk and compliance in agencies and authorities,” according to her New York State Department of Financial Services official profile. At NYU Law, Lacewell taught the course “Ethics in Government: Investigation and Enforcement.”
Arthur Caplan, the Mitty Professor of Bioethics at the NYU School of Medicine, is a regular commentator on issues relating to bioethics and healthcare. He said he was perturbed by the allegations against Lacewell.
“My mom died last year in a Massachusetts nursing home,” Caplan wrote in an email to WSN. “Nursing homes have been neglected cesspools of infection and death throughout the Covid pandemic. We should have no tolerance for fudging numbers, coverups or lying about what happened to our vulnerable elderly. Anyone involved in either causing deaths or obfuscating them ought be brought to account.”
Over 100 NYU Law students have signed a petition asking the NYU Law administration what actions they have taken or will take to address Lacewell’s alleged involvement in the scandal.
“[Lacewell’s] actions are egregiously unethical on their face and are a betrayal of the principles she teaches and the students who have learned from her,” the petition reads. “By actively participating in the coverup of thousands of deaths for the political and economic benefit of Governor Cuomo, Lacewell has violated the trust that NYU Law, her students, and the public placed in her … This was a deliberate obfuscation of critical information … It also represents an act of violence against the disabled and aging communities.”
The students who signed the petition argue that Lacewell and her actions fall below the university’s and law school’s standards and note that Lacewell’s involvement is attracting the scrutiny of the legal press.
According to an NYU Law spokesperson, the law school is aware of the allegations against Lacewell.
“Lacewell is an adjunct professor who is not teaching at the law school this semester or the next academic year,” the spokesperson told WSN. “We are aware of the concerns being raised and will continue to monitor the situation.”
Email Ruqaiyah Zarook at [email protected]