New York’s death toll from coronavirus-related nursing home deaths may be much higher than what was reported by the state, especially in the months after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) issued a mandate requiring facilities to accept COVID-positive patients regardless of whether those facilities were equipped to handle them.
A report from New York Attorney General Letitia James has determined that “COVID-19 resident deaths associated with nursing homes in New York state appear to be undercounted by DOH by approximately 50 percent.”
That 50% refers to a narrow slice of data – information from 62 hand-selected nursing home facilities and from a time period of just a couple months last spring and summer. As James’ office stated, from “March through August 3, [New York State Department of Health] DOH reported a total of 6,423 resident deaths in nursing homes due to COVID-19, including 3,640 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and 2,783 presumed7 COVID-19 deaths.” The data came from New York’s 619 nursing homes, which reported the deaths to DOH.
The report places most of the blame for the deaths on low-rated nursing homes, which received the same mandate as higher-rated ones even though they were ill-equipped to properly separate and care for COVID-positive patients. The blame for the undercounting, however, seems to be placed on the Cuomo administration.
The Office of Attorney General (OAG) hand-picked 62 nursing home facilities and requested in-facility death totals and total deaths, which would include patients who were sent to hospitals and died there. The 62 facilities reported 1,266 in-facility deaths to OAG between March 1 and sometime between April 12 to July 19, depending on when the facility responded. For the same time period, the DOH only publicized 1,229 in-facility deaths, a difference of 3%. As the OAG noted, while this discrepancy may seem low, “closer analysis revealed that some facilities reported the location of the person at the time of death inconsistently.” When removing those facilities, the discrepancy jumped to 18.66%.
That’s just the in-facility reporting. The difference in total deaths – those including nursing home patients who were sent to the hospital – showed an even bigger discrepancy. The OAG found 1,914 total deaths reported by these facilities in the narrow time frame it investigated. The DOH only publicized 1,229 such deaths, meaning they were undercounted by more than 50%. The New York Times reported that in one example, a nursing home facility reported “11 confirmed and presumed deaths” to DOH as in-facility deaths through August 3. The OAG, however, “found 40 deaths, including 27 at the home and 13 in hospitals.”
The Times noted that the “findings of Ms. James, a Democrat, could put her in direct conflict with Mr. Cuomo, the state’s three-term Democratic incumbent, who has touted his and his administration’s response to the coronavirus crisis, despite more than 42,000 deaths in the state.”
The Times and other media outlets have also praised Cuomo’s coronavirus response. He has received multiple awards.