Cuomo Says Staff Handled Nursing Homes as ‘Best They Could’

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo defended his administration’s handling of nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic, saying “everyone did the best they could” with the facts they had at the time.

Cuomo disputed a report from state Attorney General Letitia James, which found that the state Health Department may have undercounted Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%, and may have obscured data available to assess the risk to patients.

Before the report was released on Thursday, the Cuomo administration had reported about 8,700 confirmed and presumed Covid deaths at nursing homes, or 25% of the state’s total. The tally didn’t include nursing home residents who were transferred to hospitals and died there.

Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said it was wrong to say the administration had not counted the deaths of nursing-home residents who died at hospitals, because those fatalities were included in the total deaths reported.

Hours after James released her report, Zucker provided new data showing 9,786 confirmed fatalities associated with skilled nursing-facility residents. That along with another 2,957 presumed fatalities from earlier in 2020 adds thousands more nursing-home associated deaths, equating to 29.8% of the state’s total.

Double-Checking

The state didn’t initially release the data because it was trying to make sure it was accurate and there was no double counting, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said. The transfer data is reported by nursing homes, and was difficult to obtain quickly during the height of the pandemic, she said.

“The total number of deaths has not changed,” Zucker said. “Reporting the number of deaths is always the hardest number to report out there, and we wanted to be sure that those numbers were accurate.”

Cuomo and Zucker also defended state guidance from March 25 that required coronavirus patients be admitted into nursing homes, which James’s investigation found may have put healthy residents at risk. The governor blamed the controversy on a “political attack” started by the Trump administration.

The state was following federal guidance, and nursing homes were not supposed to take in Covid-positive patients if their facility wasn’t able to properly isolate them, Cuomo said.

“It’s a tragedy and I understand maybe the instinct to blame or to find some relief for the pain that you’re feeling, but it is a tragedy,” Cuomo said. “It’s not about pointing fingers or blame, it’s that this became a political football.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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