Cuomo admits ‘mistake’ over data on COVID-related nursing home deaths

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he should have "prioritized providing more information" of coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes to federal officials.(Photo courtesy of the governor's office)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo admitted he made a “mistake” in not providing statistics and information on nursing home deaths related to the coronavirus in a timely manner during a Monday news conference.

Cuomo defended state health officials and the accuracy of the nursing home figures his administration provided, but admitted that he should have “prioritized providing more information.” i

“To be clear, all the deaths in nursing homes and in the hospitals were always fully, publicly, and accurately reported,” Cuomo said Monday. “The public had many questions and concerns and the press had many questions about nursing homes primarily. I understand that they were not answered quickly enough.”

The controversy began when Attorney General Letitia James announced in late January that an investigation into the state’s Health Department revealed coronavirus deaths of nursing home residents had been undercounted.

James said in a statement on Jan. 28 that her office had been investigating nursing homes throughout the state “based on allegations of patient neglect and other concerning conduct that may have jeopardized the health and safety of residents and employees,” received as early as March 2020 and numbering more than 900 since November. More than 20 nursing homes remain under investigation as a result, according to James.

“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.”

The initial investigations conducted by James’ office indicated that a larger number of nursing home residents died from the coronavirus than reported by the state’s Department of Health. Based on a survey of 62 nursing homes that found the state undercounted the fatalities there by an average of 56 percent, the data could push the department’s original count of 8,711 coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes to more than 13,000, according to the report.

Investigations also showed that the lack of compliance in nursing homes with infection control protocols put residents at increased risk of harm, and facilities that had lower pre-pandemic staffing rating had higher coronavirus-related fatality rates.

After the investigations’ preliminary findings were publicized, the state came out with new data that showed an additional 3,800 coronavirus-related deaths of nursing home residents had occurred in hospitals. Part of the discrepancies between the initial state Health Department figures and findings from the investigation included the deaths of people in nursing homes compared with those who were in nursing homes and were then transported to a hospital or somewhere else and died.

The situation escalated when top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa told state lawmakers in a private phone conversation that the state delayed providing officials with updated statistics after former President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice sent an inquiry regarding coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes.

“Basically we froze, because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice or what we give to you guys, what we start saying was going to be used against us,” DeRosa said on the call.

DeRosa later clarified her quote to state legislators in a statement on Friday.

“I was explaining that when we received the DOJ inquiry, we needed to temporarily set aside the Legislature’s request to deal with the federal request first,” she said. “We were comprehensive and transparent in our responses to the DOJ, and then had to immediately focus our resources on the second wave and vaccine rollout.”

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