New York Undercounted Nursing Home Covid-19 Deaths: Report

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Officials and public health advocates have called for increased transparency from the state government about nursing home Covid-19 deaths.

A new report by New York Attorney General Letitia James found that the state may have undercounted nursing home Covid-19 fatalities by as much as 50%, and that nursing homes may be responsible for “nearly one in every three coronavirus fatalities in the state.” The report, released last week, found a litany of failures by nursing homes to implement infection prevention and control procedures, from failing to isolate nursing home residents infected with Covid-19 to failing to test staffers for the novel coronavirus.

According to the New York Post, Attorney General James said in a statement that “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… 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.”

The report polled 62 nursing homes and found that New York health authorities undercounted Covid-19 fatalities in them “by an average of 56 percent,” according to the New York Post. Where the Department of Health’s current nursing home Covid-19 fatality count stands at 8,711, the Attorney General’s report suggests the total number might be greater than 13,000.

The Attorney General’s findings also state that 4,000 or more nursing home residents died after the Cuomo Administration ordered on March 25, 2020 that nursing homes must admit Covid-19 patients if they are “medically stable,” which potentially endangered residents in those facilities. The order was revoked on May 10, 2020, and in that same month the Department of Health released findings that the coronavirus spread in nursing homes due to asymptomatic employees, according to the Post.

In a statement about the report, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “We have to make sense of this. We have to get the full truth…  We have to be honest about the numbers.” Bill Hammond, an analyst at the Empire Center for Public Policy, said the report “highlights major discrepancies in the reporting on deaths and makes clear that state policy and oversight of nursing homes was at least one factor in the tragic loss of life,” according to the Post.

In a New York Post column about the report, former New York lieutenant governor Betsy McCaughey called for the closure of “the worst of these nursing facilities” to ensure New York’s elderly citizens can “live in decent conditions.” She notes that many facilities “were already cauldrons of infection” before the Covid-19 pandemic, failing to isolate patients with contagious diseases and to train employees in basic infection control protocols. “Of the 621 nursing homes in the state, 107 earn only a one-star rating from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid,” she wrote. “That means the worst care. James’ report confirms what CMS has found nationwide, that nursing homes with lower ratings and lower staff-to-resident ratios have worse infection rates. And predictably, during the pandemic, their residents also have had the highest COVID-19 death rates.”

The full report is available via the Attorney General’s office.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC work diligently to protect the rights of nursing home residents.  Please contact us to discuss in the event you have a potential case involving neglect or abuse.

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