Cuomo administration underreported nursing home Covid deaths by up to 50%, NY attorney general says


A view of a patient being wheeled out of a nursing home in Flushing Queens New York USA during coronavirus pandemic on April 22, 2020.

John Nacion | NurPhoto | Getty Images

The New York Department of Health underreported Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%, according to a new report published Thursday by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

The 76-page report comes after a months-long investigation by the attorney general’s office into allegations that nursing homes failed to follow coronavirus safety protocols. Her office was also investigating discrepancies between the number of nursing home deaths reported by the state’s department of health and the number of deaths reported by the facilities themselves.

The investigation found that the number of Covid deaths among nursing home residents in some facilities rose by more than 50% after counting residents who died in the hospital. The state’s official Covid-19 death toll in nursing homes excludes patients who died after being transported to a hospital.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has faced criticism for failing to disclose the total number of nursing-home residents who have died of Covid-19. In her sweeping report, James, also a Democrat, found that “many nursing home residents died from Covid-19 in hospitals after being transferred from their nursing homes, which is not reflected in D.O.H.’s published total nursing home death data.”

Representatives for Cuomo did not immediately return CNBC’s request for comment on the findings. Representatives for the state’s department of health also did not return CNBC’s request for comment.

The attorney general’s findings put her directly at odds with the governor, who has often boasted about the state’s response to the coronavirus. Cuomo has also brushed off criticism of a health department policy that directed nursing homes to accept residents who had tested positive for the coronavirus. The governor has repeatedly defended his administration’s response to the pandemic, saying that the state was poorly supported by an inept federal government caught off guard by the import of the virus.

In May, the federal government began to require nursing homes to submit data on deaths caused by the coronavirus every week, including residents who died in the facility and at hospitals. But that directive came after the initial peak of New York’s outbreak, so the available data from the state’s nursing homes is scant. An Associated Press analysis of federal data published in August concluded that the state could be understating the deaths by as much as 65%.

James’ findings are based on a survey of 62 nursing homes, or about 10% of nursing homes in the state. She said her office continues to investigate discrepancies in the data reported by the department of health and the numbers reported to the attorney general’s office.

The investigation also found that a number of nursing homes failed to comply with “critical infection control policies,” such as failing to isolate residents who tested positive for the virus.

“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.”


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