ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a backlash from several upstate elected officials Friday after he announced he is using his executive powers to take ventilators and other medical gear from hospitals that have no immediate need for the supplies and move them to downstate facilities swamped by COVID-19 patients.
Meanwhile, upstate officials told CNHI the state is mapping plans to send Air National Guard UH-60 BlackHawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters to various counties to assist in the movement of medical supplies to areas where they are needed immediately.
Cuomo insisted the state was not "seizing" the equipment, noting the hospitals from which ventilators and other supplies are taken will get the gear returned or be fully reimbursed.
The emergency move was necessary, he said, to save lives as the death tally surges in the metropolitan New York City region.
"I am not going to let people die because we didn't redistribute ventilators," the governor said. "We don't have enough. Period."
But 11 upstate lawmakers, including Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda and Assemblymen Angelo Morinello, R-Niagara Falls, and Mike Norris, R-Lockport, called the move "reckless" as well as a "grave mistake" that will leave upstate communities vulnerable with infections now growing in every county.
In a letter to Cuomo, the legislators wrote: "The semantics of 'sharing' may render this order more acceptable to the general public. But we need to call it what it is: state seizure of private property" from private hospitals.
The governor's order was also questioned by U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-North Country, and Tom Reed, R-Corning, both staunch allies of President Donald Trump.
Stefanik noted her district has a high concentration of senior citizens, "the most vulnerable age group" during the pandemic.
The criticism bridged the partisan divide. In a separate statement, U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Niagara Falls/Buffalo, called the governor's order "unacceptable."
Meanwhile, state officials began taking an inventory of potential landing sites for helicopters in upstate counties, according to county officials.
Cuomo has estimated the state could run out of ventilators as soon as next week.
New York is the nation's epicenter for the public health disaster. The statewide total of infections has now surged past 100,000 cases.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com.