Cuomo administration recrafted Department of Health report on nursing homes to conceal COVID-19 death count: reports
ALBANY, N.Y. — The Cuomo administration’s reporting of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes drew another round of criticism late Thursday after it was revealed the total death count was stripped from a state report last July.
The report released by the Department of Health last summer had long been criticized for not including the number of nursing home deaths that occurred in hospitals, leading to a drastic undercounting.
Now the reason is more clear: The Cuomo administration pressured the health department to not include the full death count attributed to nursing homes in the report, according to The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
Instead, the report indicated more than 6,200 nursing-home residents had died, instead of nearly 10,000 at the time who were residents of the homes and either died there or at a hospital.
The lower count allowed Gov. Andrew Cuomo to more affirmatively tout the state’s response to the pandemic, which has killed more than 48,000 New Yorkers. He wrote a book in October to burnish his image over lowering the state’s death count and cases through government action.
In all, about 15,000 deaths are attributable to nursing homes or other long term care facilities, which, per capita, is actually slightly lower than the national average compared to overall deaths by state.
What happened with counting COVID-19 nursing home deaths?
Cuomo’s office has fully reported the total death count in New York, just for months didn’t include all those who lived in nursing homes and died in hospitals as nursing home deaths.
Cuomo’s office said late Thursday that it didn’t include all the nursing homes from COVID-19 in the July report because it wasn’t sure the data was accurate.
That was a position the administration held for months as lawmakers, the media and advocacy groups sought the information to understand the full scope of the pandemic’s toll on the most vulnerable population and reacted to the virus’ outbreaks.
“While early versions of the report included out of facility deaths, the COVID task force was not satisfied that the data had been verified against hospital data and so the final report used only data for in facility deaths, which was disclosed in the report,” Gary Holmes, spokesman for the state Health Department, said in a statement.
Andrew Cuomo was riding high in COVID.Now he’s facing scandal of his own making.
The state’s explanation did little to quell the latest furor over the state’s handling of nursing home deaths — both with the undercounting and a March 25 order that allowed people with COVID in hospitals to return back to nursing homes.
It led to a new round of calls for Cuomo to resign or for lawmakers to move forward with impeachment as the Democratic governor is also embroiled in a scandal over accusations that he sexually harassed two former female aides.
“This is criminal,” Assemblyman Ron Kim, D-Queens, a top critic of the Cuomo administration on nursing homes, wrote on Twitter.
“The Gov’s top advisors pushed state health officials to strip a public report of the data showing more nursing home deaths. The changes Cuomo’s aides made to the report reveal that they had the fuller accounting of NH deaths as early as the summer of 2020.”
Releasing the nursing home data
It wasn’t until a Jan. 28 report by Attorney General Letitia James knocked the Cuomo administration for the undercounting that the Department of Health released the full number of nursing home deaths.
They provided the number, about 13,000 deaths, within hours of James’ report.
Cuomo also since admitted he should have been more forthcoming with the data.
The New York Times reported the move to limit the full public accounting of nursing home deaths started before the Justice Department got involved. It described a battle between Cuomo’s aides and the health department, citing documents and unnamed sources.
How Cuomo’s nursing home scandals, sexual harassment unraveled
The Times reported that a chart that showed the true death count in nursing homes was initially included in the report, but was stripped from the final version by DeRosa and top aide Linda Lacewell.
Beth Garvey, Cuomo’s special counsel, refuted the reports late Thursday, “The out of facility data was omitted after DOH could not confirm it had been adequately verified.”
And she said the figures did not change the report’s conclusion that the March 25 order was “not a driver of nursing home infections or fatalities.”
The report contended that COVID got into the homes mainly through staff and visitors who unknowingly brought it in during the early months of the pandemic.
Follow Joseph Spector on Twitter: @GannettAlbany