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“Apologies aren’t meant to change the past, they are meant to change the future.”
I remembered that quote on Tuesday on my way home with my husband Sean after meeting New York Gov. Kathy Hochul. We were invited to the meeting after the governor saw us at a rally outside her Manhattan office a few weeks ago when we were advocating on behalf of the loved ones we lost to COVID last spring in separate long term care facilities.
It was a small, closed door meeting. There were no pictures taken inside the office. It was simply a moment to finally speak and be heard.
Daniel Arbeeny, Haydee Pabney, Assemblyman Ron Kim, Alexa Rivera Janice Dean, her husband Sean Newman and Peter Arbeeny pose for a photo before meeting with New York Gov. Hochul about 2020 COVID nursing home deaths on October 12, 2021.
This was the first time our family has ever been acknowledged by the governor’s office. As she walked in and shook our hands, she offered her condolences.
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
I thanked her for taking the time to sit with us, and find out what we’ve been fighting for all these months.
Without any of us knowing on March 25th of 2020 former Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order to admit over 9,000 COVID positive patients into New York nursing homes for 46 days. Even Cuomo knew this would endanger our seniors when he pre-emptively warned the virus would “spread like fire through dry grass.”
It’s still a mystery to us as to why he and his health office decided to light the match.
Instead of being honest, and admitting this was a terrible decision, Cuomo lied, denied, blamed others while covering up the death toll. While he could’ve met with families or expressed his condolences, the governor decided it was more important to celebrate himself by writing a book and winning an Emmy.
As grieving family members, many of us wanted some kind of acknowledgement for our pain and grief. Instead, we were accused of playing politics for wanting to know why our loved ones were put in grave danger.
My good friend and fellow advocate New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim, who lost his uncle to COVID in a nursing home help arrange the sit down.
I am so grateful for his kindness and leadership through all of this. Tuesday’s meeting would never have happened without him.
Gov. Hochul was empathetic and generous with her time. She wanted to hear from all of us, and listened to our thoughts and concerns about how we can finally start the healing process and the way forward to help make sure it doesn’t happen again.
My husband Sean, who is a very private person, finds it very difficult to talk about his loss. He was able explain to her how painful it was losing both his parents in such a short period of time without being able to see or comfort them.
Dee and Mickey Newman in an undated family photograph. (Courtesy Janice Dean)
He told her how he brought his mom flowers a few days after his father died, but couldn’t hug her. He stood six feet away in the lobby of her assisted living residence telling her to hang on. We’d get through this.
That was the last time he saw her before she got sick and died.
Janice Dean’s in-laws Dee and Mickey Newman attend their son Sean’s promotion ceremony to battalion chief (Courtesy Janice Dean)
Seeing my husband sharing this with the governor brought me right back to what it was like a year and a half ago. The shock, confusion, and grief crashed over me so hard I could barely catch my breath.
I cried listening to my friends Peter and Daniel Arbeeny talk about their father Norman, asking if his death counted in Gov. Cuomo’s whitewash of the numbers.
Haydee Pabey and Alexa Rivera showed Gov. Hochul pictures of their moms Elba and Ana while sharing their tragic stories.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks to reporters after a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony at the state Capitol, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo)
Gov. Hochul says that going forward, her administration is going to transparent. She gave us her word that her administration would work with us.
She looked us in the eye and thanked us for being strong, relentless advocates.
Cuomo wanted everyone to believe this was about politics. It never was. There were no Democrats or Republicans in that room pouring their hearts out.
It was about human beings wanting to help and listening to those that were hurting.
I left the meeting with a glimmer of hope. That’s something I haven’t had in a long time.
But, Gov. Hochul’s actions in the days ahead will speak louder than words.
An apology won’t bring back our loved ones, but it might just change the way things are done going forward to protect other families in the future.