Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Health Department understated the number of New Yorkers who died in nursing homes during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic by more than 50 percent as the facilities struggled to properly isolate and treat residents amid a state order they not turn away COVID-19 patients.
The bombshell finding was contained in a new 76-page report released Thursday by state Attorney General Letitia James, which found that mismanagement and long-standing problems in the private care business turned nursing homes into COVID death traps.
“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,” said Attorney General James in a statement.
“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 continued. “Nursing homes residents and workers deserve to live and work in safe environments, and I will continue to work hard to safeguard this basic right during this precarious time.”
Lawmakers and nursing home advocates alike have been critical of the Cuomo administration’s virus-related policies governing nursing home protocols, specifically a now-infamous March 25 order that barred homes from turning away COVID-positive individuals.
As part of the report, James’ investigators surveyed 62 nursing homes across the state and found that 1,914 residents from those facilities either died there or at nearby hospitals after testing positive for coronavirus or exhibiting symptoms of the deadly disease.
That figure was 56 percent higher than the numbers for those facilities published by the state Department of Health, which only published the number of people who passed away while still at the nursing homes at the time of their deaths, not those who were subsequently taken to a hospital and then died.
If that undercount is consistent across the entire state — it would push the number of nursing home deaths from the current tally of 8,711 presumed and confirmed coronavirus cases to more than 13,000.
The new report does not increase the number of overall deaths in the Empire State from the coronavirus, which stands at an estimated 42,887 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University case tracker.
State DOH puts the number at 34,579, but that tally only includes confirmed deaths.
James’s report shows that nursing homes were even deadlier than previously thought — potentially accounting for nearly one-in-every-three coronavirus fatalities in the state.
It report also revealed that many nursing homes mishandled patients sick with the disease by failing to properly isolate residents who tested positive for COVID-19.
And, it says that nursing home managers often failed to screen and test employees for the virus, demanding that sick staff continue to care for residents or face punishment or termination.