The New York state health department underreported the Covid-19 death toll in nursing homes by as much as 50 percent, the state’s attorney general charged Thursday.
More nursing home residents died from the coronavirus than the state Department of Health’s “published nursing home data reflected and may have been undercounted by as much as 50 percent,” Attorney General Letitia James’ investigators concluded in 76-page report.
“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.
New York leads the nation in the number of Covid-19 deaths with 43,734, according to the latest NBC News tally, most of which occurred in the early days of the pandemic when public health officials were trying figure out how the disease was spreading.
There was no immediate response to the report from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat whose pandemic response has been widely praised but who has also been criticized for waiting until May to reverse a state policy that required long-term care facilities to accept recovering patients who may still test positive for Covid-19.
Cuomo has insisted that it was up to the nursing homes to alert state health officials if they were not equipped to take care of infected residents. And a report issued by the state in July laid the blame for the more than 8,500 deaths of seniors on staffers who unwittingly infected residents.
The AG’s office launched an investigation last spring after whistleblowers reported that residents who tested positive for Covid-19 were being “intermingled” with healthy residents and that the nursing homes were failing to adequately test workers for coronavirus and making “sick employees continue to work and care for residents or face retaliation or termination.”
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Soon, investigators began noticing discrepancies between the numbers of Covid-19 nursing home deaths they were seeing and the numbers being reported by New York’s state health department.
“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,” a summary of the report reads.
Investigators also noticed another pattern.
“The investigations 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,” the report states.
As a result of the report, the AG’s office said it will investigate more than 20 nursing homes whose conduct during the first wave of the pandemic “presented particular concern.”