NY AG probe finds state may have undercounted COVID nursing home deaths by 50%
A blistering report from the New York Attorney General’s Office has found that the state’s reporting on the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes may not be accurate.
New York Attorney General Leticia James alleges the state may have undercounted COVID nursing home deaths by as much as 50% and that a controversial Cuomo administration policy could have put residents at an increased risk for the virus.
The attorney general says that the New York Health Department likely left out thousands of nursing home COVID deaths in part because the tally didn’t count residents who were taken to the hospital and died there.
Vivian Zayas is the founder of the group Voices for Seniors, which she created shortly after losing her 78-year-old mother Ana Martinez to the coronavirus in April. Martinez was staying at a West Islip nursing home. Since her mother died, Zayas has been insisting that the number of nursing home deaths reported by New York state is wrong.
“We want accountability and we can’t get it unless we know the truth,” she says. “We know we wanted the numbers. We had a suspicion they were high, as they were.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had been heavily criticized for his handling of nursing homes during the height of the pandemic. The state directed nursing facilities to accept patients that had tested positive for the virus – a move that James says may have put residents at risk.
The attorney general also took aim at several facilities for allegedly failing to impose infection control measures.
The report found evidence that some nursing homes in New York did not isolate residents who tested positive for the virus, failed to screen staff for the virus and demanded that sick employees continue to work.
But nursing home industry spokesperson Stephen Hanse claims those shortcomings happened because of a lack of funding.
“The CDC did not designate nursing homes for priority for COVID-19 testing. We struggled to secure PPE, we had staffing shortages, and all along we said we need to be treated equal in terms of priority as hospitals,” Hanse says.
The New York attorney general says that investigations of 20 nursing homes are continuing as a result of the preliminary findings.
In one example, a facility reported five confirmed deaths and six presumed deaths to the New York Department of Health. But that same facility reported 40 deaths to the New York Attorney General’s Office – a discrepancy of 29 deaths.
New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, said in a statement, "The Office of the Attorney General suggests that all should be counted as nursing home deaths and not hospital deaths even though they died in hospitals. That does not in any way change the total count of deaths but is instead a question of allocating the number of deaths between hospitals and nursing homes."