Fact Check: NY Gov. Cuomo Did NOT Reject Buying Recommended 16,000 Ventilators In 2015 for Pandemic

Fact Check

  • by: Lead Stories Staff

STORY UPDATED: check for updates below.

Fact Check: NY Gov. Cuomo Did NOT Reject Buying Recommended 16,000 Ventilators In 2015 for Pandemic False!

Did New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reject a recommendation for his state to buy 16,000 ventilators in 2015 in preparation for a pandemic? No, that's not true: That is disinformation being spread among conservatives, misinterpreting the facts of a 2015 report by a New York task force about the need for ventilators during a pandemic.

The reports of Cuomo "rejecting a recommendation to buy 16,000 ventilators" came from an article published by The Gateway Pundit on March 22, 2020, titled "NY Gov. Cuomo Rejected Buying Recommended 16,000 Ventilators in 2015 for Pandemic, Established Death Panels and Lottery Instead" (archived here) which opened:

Life comes at you fast, as the saying goes, or as the case may be in this era of a viral pandemic, death comes at you fast. Sadly it is the latter for the citizens of New York who will pay the price for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) 2015 decision to not fix a shortfall and buy the recommended 16,000 ventilators to shore up the state's stockpile in case of a pandemic. Cuomo spent more money than the cost of the ventilators on a solar panel boondoggle, reports former New York Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCaughey (R) in a syndicated column published this past week. McCaughey reports the Cuomo administration decided instead to establish "triage officers" to decide in a crisis who would get a ventilator and who would be left to die.

Users on social media only saw this:

The report referred to is called Ventilator Allocation Guidelines, and it outlined in stark details who would -- and who would not -- get ventilators if a pandemic hit the state and healthcare facilities began to run out of the life-saving equipment. The report did not make recommendations for the state to purchase 16,000 more ventilators; however, it did make clear that, in a severe pandemic, the state would have a shortfall of nearly 16,000 ventilators. The report was an update to 2007 guidelines.

The report said:

During a severe influenza pandemic, there is likely to be a projected shortfall of ventilators (-15,783) during peak week demand.

There was no recommendation or even a proposal to buy enough ventilators to fill the shortfall, according to the report, which explained:

New York State has stockpiled 1,750 ventilators to help reduce ventilator need in the face of the moderate scenario; however, there are no current plans to buy enough ventilators for the most severe model. The State's current approach to stockpiling a limited number of ventilators balances the need to prepare for a potential pandemic against the need to maintain adequate funding for current and ongoing health care expenses. Furthermore, severe staffing shortages are anticipated, and purchasing additional ventilators beyond a threshold will not save additional lives, because there will not be a sufficient number of trained staff to operate them.

The Gateway Pundit article gained traction after U.S. President Donald Trump cited the story in an interview on Fox News with Bill Hemmer, holding up a printed copy and offering to give it to the news anchor. The Gateway Pundit was citing a column by Betsy McCaughey, the New York lietenant governor under Republican Gov. George Pataki from 1995-1998.

The reports come as Democrat Cuomo's popularity has been rising from his daily news conferences, and as he has become increasingly critical of what he deems a slow federal response to the state's needs brought on by the coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic. In an impassioned plea on March 24, 2020, the governor implored the Trump administration to do more to help his state, which has become the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States.

The governor said he needs 30,000 ventilators as soon as possible, as New York might see a peak demand of 140,000 urgent care patients in a matter of weeks.

For his part, Trump tweeted the next day - early on March 25, 2020 - that he is doing all he can, and that 4,000 ventilators are on its way to New York.

If anything, the 2015 report underestimated the severity of a pandemic, with Cuomo and state health officials now saying the state needs 30,000 ventilators -- nearly double what the report anticipated.

While the report did not recommend buying more ventilators, it did outline how ventilators would need to be allocated when sick patients overwhelmed hospitals. The report talks about a color-coded system to help prioritize who gets a ventilator and who doesn't. It also details "tie-breaker" possibilities and a lottery system. In fact, the word "lottery" appears 29 times in the report.

Such bleak assessments make for disturbing reading:

If the eligible patient pool consists of only adults or only children, a randomization process, such as a lottery, is used each time a ventilator becomes available because there are no other evidence-based clinical factors available to consider.

And this:

When the pool of patients eligible for ventilator therapy includes both adults and children (17 years old and younger), the Task Force determined that when all available clinical factors have been examined and the probability of mortality among the pool of patients has been found equivalent, only then may young age be utilized as a tie-breaker to select a patient for ventilator therapy.

The report describes a color-coded system of blue, red, yellow or green to determine one's level of access to a ventilator. Blue represents those who have an underlying medical condition on the "exclusion criteria list or those who have a high risk of mortality;" the "blue" patients "do not receive ventilator therapy when resources are scarce," the report said.

Red patients are those who get the highest priority "because they are most likely to recover with treatment," according to the report. It adds, "Patients in the yellow category (intermediate access) are those who are very sick, and their likelihood of survival is intermediate and/or uncertain. ... Patients in the green color code (defer/discharge) are those who do not need ventilator therapy."

All of this, the report said, will weigh heavily on stressed-out healthcare workers.

Health care providers and family members will be reluctant to withhold/withdraw ventilators from patients. Guidelines that rely heavily on withdrawal of ventilators generate great concern and controversy and may be set aside in an emergency. Further, the experience of withdrawing ventilation is traumatic for all concerned, including health care staff. Doctors and nurses forced to extubate patients, even to save other patients, may not recover full professional confidence until long after the pandemic is resolved.

The report was made by the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law, the state's bioethics commission formed in 1985. It consists of about "23 Governor-appointed experts who volunteer their time to assist the State in developing public policy on issues arising at the interface of medicine, law, and ethics," according to the health commissioner's press release at the time.

On March 25, 2020, Cuomo was asked about the ventilator issue, and he told reporters that the 2015 report was based off the Spanish Flu:

There was an advisory commission...that had a chart in 2015 that said if you had the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, you may need X number of ventilators. There is no state in the United States that bought ventilators for the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. The federal government did not buy ventilators for the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. Nobody in the world bought ventilators in preparation for a 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic."

See the video here:

NewsGuard, a company that uses trained journalists to rank the reliability of websites, describes thegatewaypundit.com as:

A partisan conservative website that regularly publishes hoaxes and widely shared conspiracy theories.

According to NewsGuard, the site does not maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability. Read their full assessment here.

We wrote about thegatewaypundit.com before, here are our most recent articles that mention the site:


  • 2020-03-25T17:04:09Z 2020-03-25T17:04:09Z
    Added quote and video of Cuomo explaining the state's decision after the 2015 report.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.

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