New York Undercounted COVID-19 Deaths In Nursing Homes By As Much As 50%: State AG

Guidance from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration may have increased the risk of harm in some facilities, said New York Attorney General Letitia James.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) administration undercounted coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%, New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a damning report released Thursday.

The New York Department of Health’s published data only reflects the number of COVID-19 patients who died in nursing homes, not those who died in hospitals after being transferred there, according to the report. This omission led to the significant gaps in the death count, the report stated.

In a statement, James said it’s “imperative” to understand why nursing home patients in New York “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,” she said in her statement.

As The New York Times reported, Cuomo has been especially sensitive of suggestions that his administration’s response played a role in the disastrous spread of the virus in nursing homes in the state. The state’s official death toll at nursing homes is about 8,500, according to the Times.

Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In her 76-page report, the Democratic attorney general said guidance issued by the Cuomo administration requiring nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients may have increased the risk of harm in some facilities. At least 4,000 nursing home residents died after that requirement was imposed, according to the attorney general’s report.

James’ office has been investigating nursing homes’ response to the pandemic since March following reports of patient neglect. At Cuomo’s direction, the attorney general’s office created a hotline in April to receive related complaints. Nearly 1,000 complaints were sent through the hotline by November, according to James’ report.

Nursing homes nationwide have struggled to curb transmission of the virus among their patients, whose ages make them especially vulnerable to COVID-19. More than one-third of coronavirus deaths across the country ― about 140,000 ― are linked to nursing homes, according to a Times analysis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended residents and staff at long-term care facilities be among the first to receive COVID-19 vaccines, but the rollout among these patients has been frustratingly slow for millions.

In some states, including Ohio and Michigan, the majority of nursing home workers have declined to get vaccinated, raising major concerns among public health experts, patients and their families.

“This is a forgotten workforce that hasn’t been treated well for years,” David Grabowski, a Harvard University health policy professor, told The Washington Post of nursing home workers refusing the vaccine.

“We’ve been slow with [personal protective equipment], we’ve been slow with hazard pay, and all of a sudden now, they want to go fast with vaccinations,” he said, adding that “there’s good reason they’re so distrustful.”

Data has shown the two COVID-19 vaccines available to the public ― produced by Pfizer and Moderna, respectively ― to be highly effective and safe, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

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