Health

Cuomo administration underreported Covid deaths in nursing homes, report says

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

John Nacion | NurPhoto | Getty Images

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

The 76-page report comes from a month-long investigation by the Attorney General’s office into allegations that nursing homes have failed to follow coronavirus safety protocols. Her office also investigated discrepancies between the number of deaths reported by the state Department of Health in nursing homes and the number of deaths reported by the facilities themselves.

The research found that the number of Covid deaths among nursing home residents in some facilities has increased by more than 50% when counting residents who died in the hospital. The official Covid-19 state death toll of more than 8,700 excludes patients who have died after being transported to hospital.

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has been criticized for failing to disclose the total number of nursing home residents who have died from Covid-19. In her comprehensive report, James, also a Democrat, noted that “many nursing home residents in hospitals died of Covid-19 after being transferred from their nursing homes, which is not reflected in the overall data on nursing home deaths published by DOH . “

Cuomo representatives did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request to comment on the results.

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement Thursday evening that the state’s Department of Health had clearly and separately reported deaths from Covid-19 in nursing homes and hospitals.

“DOH has consistently made it clear that our numbers are reported by the place of death,” he said in a statement. “DOH disagrees that the number of people being transferred from a nursing home to a hospital is an important data point and is in the process of reviewing this data from nursing homes.”

He added that the review of the available data is still ongoing. However, preliminary results show that at least 9,700 qualified care facility residents have died from Covid-19 in New York, including more than 3,800 deaths in hospitals.

He added that the confusion over the coverage of Covid-19 deaths was caused by the Trump administration, which failed to provide adequate guidance to states.

The attorney general’s findings put them directly in conflict with the governor, who often boasted of the state’s response to the coronavirus. Cuomo has also dismissed criticism of a policy by the Ministry of Health that directed nursing homes to accept residents who tested positive for the coronavirus. The governor has repeatedly defended his government’s response to the pandemic, stating that the state was poorly supported by an inept federal government that was caught by surprise by importing the virus.

In May, the federal government asked nursing homes to provide weekly data on deaths from the coronavirus, including those who died at the facility and in hospitals. However, that guideline came after the first peak of the New York outbreak, making the data available from the state nursing homes barely available. An Associated Press analysis of federal data released in August found the state could underestimate deaths by up to 65%.

James’ results are based on a survey of 62 nursing homes, or approximately 10% of nursing homes in the state. She said her law firm is continuing to investigate inconsistencies in the data reported by the Ministry of Health and the numbers reported to the Attorney General.

The investigation also found that a number of nursing homes did not adhere to “Critical Infection Control Guidelines”; B. Failing to isolate residents who test positive for the virus.

“As the pandemic and our investigation continue, it is imperative that we understand why New York nursing home residents have suffered needlessly so alarmingly,” James said in a statement. “While we cannot bring back the people we lost to this crisis, this report aims to provide transparency the public deserves and encourage increased action to protect our most vulnerable residents.”

The New York State Nurses Association welcomed James’ investigation and criticized nursing homes for failing to follow public health protocols during the pandemic.

“The majority of long-term care facilities are privately owned, for-profit companies. These facilities had a financial incentive to be understaffed before the pandemic. During the pandemic, chronic staff shortages mixed with health and safety issues had fatal results,” said Kristi Barnes, one Spokeswoman for the union, which represents 42,000 frontline nurses, in a statement. “The report clearly underscores why it is a tragic mistake to rely on for-profit companies for healthcare.”

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Robert Dunfee