AG says state undercounted nursing home deaths by thousands

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 January 2021 at 9:53 pm

Local state legislators say Cuomo, health commissioner misled the public

New York Attorney General Tish James issued a report today that says the state undercounted nursing home deaths from Covid-19 by as much as 50 percent.

Attorney General’s Office photo: Tish James

The state has attributed about 8,700 nursing home deaths to Covid-19. James, in her report, says there were thousands more.

The state Department of Health often did not attribute a death to a nursing home when a resident, gravely ill from Covid, went to a hospital and succumbed to the virus.

“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 AG’s office wrote in a summary of the report.

James and her staff also revealed that nursing homes’ lack of compliance with infection control protocols put residents at increased risk of harm, and facilities that had lower pre-pandemic staffing ratings had higher Covid-19 fatality rates.

“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. “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. 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.”

Click here to see the report.

DOH Commissioner: No ‘undercount’ on total death toll

State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said the report makes it clear there was no undercount “of the total death toll from this once-in-a-century pandemic.”

The total number of deaths in hospitals and nursing homes is full and accurate, Zucker said.

The DOH on its website reports the number of fatalities within hospitals irrespective of the residence of the patient, and separately reports the number of fatalities within nursing home facilities, Zucker said in response to the report. The DOH has consistently made clear it based its count on place of death, he said.

“The word ‘undercount’ implies there are more total fatalities than have been reported,” he said. “This is factually wrong. In fact, the OAG report itself repudiates the suggestion that there was any ‘undercount’ of the total death number.”

Local legislators respond, with Ortt asking for health commissioner to resign

State Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, leader of the Senate Republicans, issued this statement:

“The report released today by the Attorney General is confirmation for the thousands of families who lost loved ones to Covid-19 in New York nursing homes. For months, Governor Cuomo and his administration have refused to be transparent or take any responsibility for actions they have taken during this public health crisis – including the deadly March 25, 2020 order to send Covid-positive patients into nursing homes.

“By underreporting Covid deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50 percent, the Department of Health has betrayed the public trust. To repair that broken trust, I am calling on Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to resign.”

Hawley wants hearing on state DOH

Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, wants a legislative hearing regarding the handling of the pandemic within New York state’s nursing homes by the Department of Health, as well as the revocation of the Governor’s emergency powers. The report revealed that residents and staff were not provided with sufficient amounts of PPE and Covid-19 tests, and that many nursing homes were not complying with an executive order requiring communication with family members of residents.

“What was revealed in today’s report from the Attorney General is nothing short of tragic, and, at this point, I consider it a moral obligation to hold hearings into this matter so we can get to the bottom of what caused this unfathomable tragedy,” Hawley said. “I am shocked we are only learning today of the magnitude of this unthinkable loss of life, and I am resolved to restoring proper and constitutional government in our state to ensure the Legislature has the oversight capability to assure this never happens again.”

Norris says New Yorkers deserve accountability from Governor, DOH

Assemblyman Mike Norris, R-Lockport, issued this statement: “On behalf of the constituents who have been pleading for answers regarding the health and well-being of their loved ones in nursing homes over the past 11 months, I am outraged by the results of the attorney general’s report which confirmed our worst fears — that Gov. Cuomo’s administration has been hiding as many as 50 percent of nursing home deaths.

“It is beyond shameful. The state Legislature should immediately, as I have been calling for time and time again since July 1, 2020, strip the governor of any and all emergency powers he has exercised for way too long during this pandemic. We should restore our legislative authority and begin to do our jobs in representing the people. New York state’s government was set up with a division of power for this very purpose — with checks and balances. Attorney General James has at last done her job by issuing this report. The downstate driven, one-party controlled state Legislature must do their jobs now before another life is lost or more facts are hidden from the public.

“Taxpayers deserve open and transparent government. Where is the accountability from the administration here? For example, I have been asking the Health Department for months for a basic breakdown of how coronavirus deaths are being recorded and have yet to receive a response to my repeated inquiries. Taxpayers and lawmakers deserve responses to these questions.”

Jacobs says Cuomo ‘complicit in cover-up’

Congressman Chris Jacobs issued this statement: “Two days ago, Governor Cuomo callously remarked ‘incompetent government kills.’ Tragically, those words can now clearly be used to describe the actions of his own administration. Governor Cuomo directly jeopardized the health and safety of thousands of nursing home residents with his directive mandating Covid positive patients be accepted back. As a result, thousands of our seniors died after contracting Covid-19. For months, the Governor has refused to take responsibility, and his Department of Health Commissioner has refused to provide transparent information to elected officials and grieving families.

“New York Attorney General Letitia James’ report finally shows what we have all suspected for months. Governor Cuomo and his administration could be complicit in a cover-up of the true effects of this disastrous decision. Governor Cuomo, Commissioner Zucker, and any member of the administration who had a hand in this callous decision must be held accountable.

“The grieving New York families who have been brushed aside by Governor Cuomo deserve justice, and we must ensure they get it.”