New York nursing home deaths were severely undercounted, report finds

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The state attorney general is blaming a controversial policy for endangering residents

In a report released Thursday, New York Attorney Letitia James said New York nursing homes undercounted coronavirus-related deaths by as much as 50 percent. 

James criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic in the early months and said a controversial policy introduced at the start of the pandemic may have led to a tragic loss of life. 

In March, Cuomo’s Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker directed nursing homes in New York to accept patients who either tested positive for COVID-19 or were suspected to have the virus as long as they were deemed “medically stable.” James said that decision “may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities.”

Deaths undercounted

A survey of 62 nursing homes has now unearthed major discrepancies between the deaths reported to the attorney general’s investigators and those released by the Health Department. 

For example, one facility reported five confirmed and six presumed COVID-19 deaths as of Aug. 3 to the Department of Health. However, the same facility reported a total of 27 COVID-19 deaths and 13 hospital deaths to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) -- a discrepancy of 29 deaths. 

“Preliminary data obtained by O.A.G. suggests 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,” the report said. 

In the report, James said a number of nursing homes also had insufficient virus-control measures in place. She said many “failed to comply with critical infection control policies,” including not isolating residents who had tested positive for the virus or screening employees for it.

“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,” she said. “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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