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NY Attorney General says Cuomo administration under-counted COVID nursing home deaths

New York’s Attorney General has accused the Cuomo administration of undercounting the number of people who died from COVID-19 in nursing homes by as much as 50 percent. 

In a report released on Thursday, AG Letitia James said that the New York State Health Department only ever counted people who physically died in nursing homes, rather than people who contracted the disease in nursing homes but then died in hospital too. 

According to the state department’s data, 8,500 people died have from COVID in nursing homes to date. But when using the Attorney General’s estimate that 50 percent more died, that number goes up to more than 12,000. 

The report also says that Cuomo’s March directive that nursing homes had to accept COVID-19 positive patients ‘may’ have contributed to a higher number of infection, but that it is impossible to directly attribute it to him. 

Instead, her office is focusing on whether the homes themselves are to blame for not containing the spread once the patients were already admitted. 

Twenty are now facing investigation from her office. They are not named in the report, which also say that understaffed facilities had higher COVID death rates. 

Cuomo did not schedule a press briefing on Thursday, as he does every other day. His office has not responded to inquiries about the report.  

Between March and May – when he reversed the directive after widespread criticism –  6,326 COVID-positive residents were admitted to 310 nursing homes. 

Of the approximately 600 public nursing homes in New York, at least 323 homes had never had any infections until afterward the order but there is no data on which accepted COVID-19 patients and which didn’t. 

A report by the New York Attorney General Letitia James has revealed the state undercounted COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%. The state and Gov. Cuomo has put the number at 8,500. By James' number, it's more than 12,000

A report by the New York Attorney General Letitia James has revealed the state undercounted COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%. The state and Gov. Cuomo has put the number at 8,500. By James’ number, it’s more than 12,000 

The report cites data from 62 nursing homes across New York. The state only ever relayed the number of people who died physically in nursing homes and not nursing home residents who died in hospital which inflates the death toll dramatically

The report cites data from 62 nursing homes across New York. The state only ever relayed the number of people who died physically in nursing homes and not nursing home residents who died in hospital which inflates the death toll dramatically

James does not, in her report, criticize Cuomo personally and does not directly attribute the high deaths to it. 

All the report says is that the decision ‘may’ have contributed to it.  

COVID AND NURSING HOME TIMELINE IN NEW YORK

March 25: Gov. Cuomo issues a directive that all nursing homes must accept COVID-19 patients and care for them if hospitals can’t 

May 11: Cuomo reverses the decision amid widespread outrage

July 6: Cuomo admin publishes internal report revealing 6,300 COVID patients were sent back into nursing homes

They claimed that asymptomatic nursing home staff were to blame for the spread though 

August 20: The AP publishes a damning report about nursing home deaths in New York and says the number may be as high as 11,000  

October: Cuomo publishes book about his response to the pandemic

Jan 2021: AG releases her report into nursing homes, saying 20 are under investigation for failing to meet standards 

‘While additional data and analysis would be required to ascertain the effect of such admissions in individual facilities, these admissions may have contributed to increased risk of nursing home resident infection, and subsequent fatalities (whether due to actual transmission of infection from new residents to incumbent residents, or due to the facilities’ poor self-assessment during the admission process that was followed by failure to provide appropriate care to that patient or other residents.)’ the report reads.  

Instead, she says her office is now investigating 20 nursing homes which may not have met safety and cleanliness requirements. 

Cuomo’s decision to send thousands of COVID-19 patients back into nursing homes has been widely blamed for the high number of deaths among elderly people in New York.

In March, he signed a directive that said nursing homes had to accept the patients, even if they were COVID positive, and that they had to find a way to care for them while keeping other residents and staff safe from the virus.

He later reversed it but between March and May, 6,326 COVID-positive residents were admitted to nursing homes. 

In May, the AP published the first report that New York was undercounting nursing home deaths and the AG’s office launched an investigation. 

Every other state has counted both. 

Cuomo has resisted criticism for the directive and he has never apologized for it. 

The Governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday morning. 

The report points out that while widely criticized, Cuomo’s March 25 directive was in line with the federal guidance that had been given. 

The point of the directive, from his view, was to ensure nursing homes were up to scratch.

New York City Fire Department (FDNY) Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) wearing personal protective equipment lift a man after moving him from a nursing home into an ambulance on April 16, 2020

New York City Fire Department (FDNY) Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) wearing personal protective equipment lift a man after moving him from a nursing home into an ambulance on April 16, 2020

But nursing homes and the families of their residents angrily demanded to know why COVID-19 positive patients were being admitted in the first place, especially when healthy visitors were not allowed. 

The report from James’ office seems neither criticizes or excuses Cuomo for it. 

‘Many nursing home industry and other commentators have criticized DOH’s March 25 guidance as a directive that nursing homes had to accept COVID-19 patients who were infectious.45 

‘At the same time, the March 25 guidance was consistent with the CMS guidance on March 4 that said nursing homes should accept residents they would have normally admitted, even if from a hospital with COVID-19, and that patients from hospitals can be transferred to nursing homes if the nursing homes have the ability to adhere to infection prevention and control recommendations,’ it says.  

At the time, recovered nursing home patients were taking up much needed hospital beds because they were delays in them receiving testing results back and nursing homes were not accepting anyone from the hospital unless they’d been given a negative COVID test. 

The hospital system in New York never collapsed. 

There were individual hospitals that became overwhelmed but the system, overall, held. 

The field hospitals set up by Cuomo at the HMS Comfort and Javits Center were never used to their full capacity. 

They weren’t set up until after the March 25 directive.   


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