ALBANY — A report released Thursday by Attorney General Letitia James accuses the Cuomo administration of undercounting COVID nursing home deaths by as much as 50%.
James’ office conducted a months-long investigation into the state’s handling of elder care facilities during the pandemic and how nursing homes failed to protect vulnerable seniors from the deadly virus.
“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,” James said 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.”
Gov. Cuomo and the state Health Department have faced intense criticism over how the state has reported COVID deaths of nursing home residents.
A July report issued by the state absolved the administration and laid blame for the more than 8,500 deaths of seniors on staffers who unwittingly infected residents.
But a controversial March mandate requiring facilities to accept COVID-positive patients may have increased the risk of others at the congregate facilities contracting the virus, the Attorney General’s report found.
James’ investigation, which began after the governor asked the AG to set up a hotline to receive complaints about nursing homes failing to keep in touch with family members as in-person visits were banned, found that nursing home residents who died from COVID-19 after being transferred to hospitals have not been included in the official state count.
It also found that preliminary data also “reflects apparent underreporting” to the state by some nursing homes of resident deaths occurring in facilities as well.
New York’s AG office asked 62 nursing homes, 10% of the total facilities in the state, for information about on-site and in-hospital deaths from COVID-19.
Using the data from those facilities, investigators compared the number of in-facility deaths found to those publicized by the state Department of Health as well as the total deaths compared to those made public by the state
In one example, one unnamed nursing home reported five confirmed and six presumed COVID-19 deaths at the facility as of August 3 to the state.
However, the facility reported a total of 27 coronavirus deaths and 13 hospital deaths — a discrepancy of 29 deaths — to the AG’s office.
In addition to the dramatic undercounting of deaths, the investigation found many nursing homes failed to comply with safety protocols and put residents at risk of infection.
Some sites failed to properly isolate residents who tested positive for COVID-19 or adequately screen or test employees for the virus. Others demanded that sick employees continue to work and care for residents or face retaliation or termination.
The report also found operators failed to train employees in infection control protocol or PPE.
Nursing homes that had lower staffing ratings before the pandemic began also reported higher fatality rates, the report found.
James’ office will continue to investigate allegations, including a focus on practices at more than 20 nursing homes where reported conduct “presented particular concern.”
“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,” James said.
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