Cuomo Staff May Have Undercounted Nursing-Home Dead by 50%
(Bloomberg) -- Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration may have undercounted coronavirus-related deaths in New York nursing homes by as much as 50%, state Attorney General Letitia James said.
In a report released Thursday, James’s office said that the state Health Department erred in counting Covid-19 fatalities and detailed a lack of compliance with infection-control policies at many nursing homes.
The investigation, which the Cuomo administration strongly disputed, also found that state guidance requiring coronavirus patients be admitted into nursing homes may have put healthy residents at risk. The Health Department may have obscured data available to assess the risk, according to the report.
“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,” James, elected in 2018, said in a news release.
”We have to get the full truth and we have to be honest about the numbers,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in response to the report.
As currently tallied by the state, nursing-home deaths due to Covid-19 total more than 8,700, accounting for 25% of the 34,742 fatalities statewide. The state’s calculation doesn’t include an unreported number of patients who contract Covid in nursing homes, but die in hospitals, state officials have said.
Howard Zucker, Cuomo’s health commissioner, said in a release late Thursday afternoon that New York’s data has always been clear. Any suggestion of an undercount, he said, is “factually wrong.”
The Health Department “has always publicly reported the number of fatalities within hospitals irrespective of the residence of the patient, and separately reported the number of fatalities within nursing home facilities and has been clear about the nature of that reporting,” he said.
The attorney general’s report also found that for-profit nursing homes continued to accept new patients, despite facing staff shortages, high infection rates, and a dearth of personal protective equipment. For example, it found one nursing home in Western New York that continued to accept new residents “despite ongoing staffing difficulties, having nine out of 126 residents who tested positive for COVID-19, five residents dying from confirmed COVID-19, and five staff testing positive for COVID-19.”
Zucker said the Health Department has already issued 140 infection-control citations to nursing homes and more than a dozen “immediate jeopardy” citations. “Violations of these protocols is inexcusable and operators will be held accountable,” Zucker said.
The Attorney General’s Office based its report on data obtained from 62 nursing homes, or 10% of the total. Investigations are ongoing. The preliminary data suggest that “COVID-19 resident deaths associated with nursing homes in New York state appear to be undercounted by DOH by approximately 50 percent,” the report said.
On Thursday, Republican state senators Jim Tedisco and Sue Serino asked legislative leaders to subpoena the state Health Department to get the information.
“The report reaffirms the need for a full, independent investigation of the data the state continues to withhold,” Serino said. “It is time for the Legislature to follow the AG’s lead, put politics aside and leverage its full subpoena power to get to the bottom of the policies and subsequent cover-up.”
Cuomo, a Democrat, has faced criticism for a March 25 Health Department advisory requiring nursing homes to admit patients with Covid-19, a bid to free up bed space in hospitals. At least 4,000 nursing-home residents died after that order, according to the attorney general’s report.
Cuomo in May defended his decision, saying the state was following federal guidelines. The state later prohibited hospitals from discharging a patient to a nursing home without a negative test for the virus. A Health Department report released in July attributed the spread of the virus in nursing homes to workers.
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