NY AG Confirms Cuomo's Health Dept Undercounted COVID Nursing Home Deaths Up to 50%
Death toll much higher that reported by Democrat governor's office
New York’s death toll from COVID-19-related nursing home deaths may be far higher than what was reported by the Democratic governor's office, the state's attorney general has confirmed.
The number is believed to be especially undercounted in the months after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) issued a mandate forcing facilities to accept coronavirus patients, regardless of whether the nursing homes were equipped to handle them.
“COVID-19 resident deaths associated with nursing homes in New York state appear to be undercounted by DOH by approximately 50 percent,” a report from New York Attorney General Letitia James has determined.
That 50% refers to a narrow portion of data – information from 62 hand-selected nursing homes and from a time period of just a couple of months during last Spring and Summer.
“March through August 3, [New York State Department of Health] DOH reported a total of 6,423 resident deaths in nursing homes due to COVID-19, including 3,640 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and 2,783 presumed COVID-19 deaths,” AG James’s office states.
The data came from New York’s 619 nursing homes, which reported the deaths to DOH.
The report holds New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's feet to the fire for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the early months, after he directed nursing homes in the Empire State to accept patients who had or were suspected of having COVID-19.
Most of the deaths are from low-rated nursing homes, which received the same mandate as higher-rated ones even though they were ill-equipped to properly separate and care for COVID-positive patients.
The decision created an onslaught of COVID-19 cases that infected thousands of elderly patients and resulted in hundreds of deaths among the state's most vulnerable population.
Cuomo has defended the nursing home policy as in-line with guidance from the Trump administration at the time.
James' report said that government guidance requiring the admission of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities and may have obscured the data available to assess that risk.
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) asked 62 nursing homes to provide data about deaths in their facilities.
In one example, a facility reported five confirmed and six presumed COVID-19 deaths at the facility as of Aug. 3 to the Department of Health, yet reported to the OAG a total of 27 COVID-19 deaths at the facility and 13 hospital deaths — a discrepancy of 29 deaths.
The report, which revealed the findings of an investigation into allegations of patient neglect and other "concerning conduct" that jeopardized the health and safety of both patients and employees, said that some facilities failed to comply with health protocols to stop the spread of the virus.
Nursing homes that had low U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Staffing ratings were found to have higher COVID-19 fatality rates.
In addition, lack of sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) equipment for staff, as well as low availability of testing, could have also increased the patients' risk of contracting the virus, the report said.
About 70 percent of the nearly 35,000 COVID deaths in New York were people aged 70 and older, according to state data as of Jan. 28.
Investigations into more than 20 nursing homes whose reported conduct during the first wave of the pandemic presented particular concern are still ongoing, James added.
"As the pandemic and our investigations continue, it is imperative that we understand why the residents of nursing homes in New York unnecessarily suffered at such an alarming rate," James said in a statement.
"While we cannot bring back the individuals we lost to this crisis, this report seeks to offer transparency that the public deserves and to spur increased action to protect our most vulnerable residents."