A new report by New York’s attorney general concluded that the state’s department of health likely undercounted the number of nursing home deaths from Covid-19 by as much as 50 percent. This news comes after the state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, had been seen by many — including Rolling Stone — as an outstanding leader in the pandemic.
Why the undercount? Because New York’s department of health, unlike in many other states, only counted Covid-19 deaths if the nursing home resident died at the facility. If the resident with the virus was transferred to a hospital and later died in the hospital’s care, that death was not publicized by the Department of Health.
“Preliminary data obtained by [the attorney general’s office] suggests that many nursing home residents died from Covid-19 in hospitals after being transferred from their nursing homes, which is not reflected in [department of health’s] published total nursing home death data,” the report said in a summary of its findings.
Attorney General Letitia James’s office selected 62 nursing homes, around 10 percent of the total homes in the state, to gather data for their investigation. They asked the facilities to share information about on-site and in-hospital deaths of residents from Covid-19. The attorney general’s office then compared that data to the number of deaths, both total and in-facility, publicized by New York’s department of health.
They found some vast discrepancies between actual deaths and the number reported by the health department. In one case, the health department publicized five confirmed and six presumed deaths from the virus, but to the attorney general, the nursing home reported 27 Covid-19 deaths in the facility and 13 in the hospital. That’s a difference of 29 deaths.
In addition to uncovering death count discrepancies, the attorney general’s office also investigated which safety measures facilities followed and found that “several nursing homes around the state failed to plan and take proper infection control measures.” That includes not isolating residents who tested positive for the virus, not adequately screening and testing employees for the virus, and a lack of PPE and proper training on infection control protocols. The report also said guidance by Governor Cuomo requiring nursing homes to admit Covid-19 patients “may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities and may have obscured the data available to assess that risk.” And, the investigation found, facilities with the worst Medicare staffing ratings, which reflect the ratio of staff to residents, were responsible for more than half of the resident deaths.
Governor Cuomo has touted the state’s nursing home death count, saying in August of last year, “Look at the basic facts where New York is versus other states. You look at where New York is as a percentage of nursing home deaths, it’s all the way at the bottom of the list.”
In a statement, James emphasized the importance of continuing the investigation, saying, “It is imperative that we understand why the residents of nursing homes in New York unnecessarily suffered at such an alarming rate. 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.”