ALBANY — The state on Tuesday revised its online listing of COVID-19 deaths at elder-care facilities, adding 1,700 to the previously reported statewide total.
The new system presents a clearer picture of the swath the virus has cut through nursing homes and adult care residences, as it differentiates between confirmed and suspected deaths at the 1,157 such facilities statewide.
But it is far from a complete picture, as it does not include what may be thousands more elderly New Yorkers who got sick in nursing homes or adult facilities, transferred out, and died in hospitals or elsewhere.
The state Department of Health said the list is a work in progress, being designed during an unprecedented crisis and channeling enormous amounts of data prepared with varying degrees of accuracy by over 1,000 sources. The goal is to have something closer to a full accounting, eventually.
For weeks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been peppered with questions during his daily briefings on the state’s response to the pandemic, and the revision to the death toll brought a fresh batch of questions during Tuesday’s briefing.
“I would take all of these numbers now with a grain of salt,” Cuomo said, noting that the death tallies are an incomplete mix of confirmed-positive COVID patients who died, suspected COVID patients who died before they could be tested, those who died on-site and those who died after leaving the facility for hospital, home or hospice.
“I think they’re going to change over time,” Cuomo said.
Schenectady County is as good an example as any of the incomplete and misleading picture the state death tally has been painting.
Schenectady County officials, who have released very little data on local elder-care deaths, said two weeks ago there were a dozen such fatalities within its borders. On Monday, the state listed zero deaths at nursing homes and seven at adult care facilities in the county. And on Tuesday, the revised state list showed zero deaths at either class of facility.
The state Department of Health said Tuesday this could because the initial tally was incorrect or because not a single death actually occurred within an elder care facility.
Schenectady County Manager Rory Fluman said data management and analysis has been a difficult task for many counties on top of the critical public health work they are doing through this crisis.
“We’re all struggling to stay ahead of our data reporting,” he said Tuesday.
His decision — like officials in Saratoga, Fulton and other counties — has been to not release any COVID data on specific facilities, and leave the reporting instead to the state.
Fluman’s exceptions would be if there is a local facility with five or more fatalities, or if residents started getting sick at the county-owned Glendale Home. Neither has happened yet.
He said the situation has stabilized somewhat, with the county having greater ability to respond to an outbreak at a nursing home.
“If we have a cluster — two confirmed COVID patients — we are much more positioned to get test kits into that home. That’s been a great relief to me over the past two weeks,” he said.
However, counties can and do report details on nursing home fatalities, and at least some apparently are able to differentiate between place of death and place of infection, a key distinction in understanding the depth of the crisis at New York nursing homes.
Among the information in its lengthy Facebook posts each day, Warren County does just that. Of the 19 Warren county residents dead from COVID as of Tuesday, for example, 13 had been living in nursing homes, four in assisted living facilities and just two in private residences.
Albany County goes with full disclosure on the nursing home it runs, Shaker Place, listing number of residents and employees infected and number of resident deaths. But it reports nothing on the private facilities within its borders, on the grounds that it is not the regulatory agency for them.
County officials have been out front with public disclosure and safety measures since the pandemic reached the area — County Executive Daniel McCoy said Tuesday he has agreed to a state request for it to assist with testing in private nursing homes — but through a combination of privacy concerns and jurisdictional boundaries, it doesn’t feel it should be releasing COVID data from these facilities.
The state’s new list shows 24 confirmed deaths at six facilities in Albany County.
The state Department of Health said the accounting of nursing home deaths is evolving and will change as retrospective investigation adds or subtracts deaths that were confirmed or ruled out as COVID-19 related among people who died at nursing homes or died very soon after leaving them.
It added the category “presumed deaths” — a term Cuomo himself has disparaged — as a way to be more exact and to prevent nursing home COVID deaths from being counted twice or not at all.
During his briefing Tuesday, a reporter asked Cuomo why that state hadn’t done more to protect nursing home residents.
The governor has said repeatedly that this is the job of a facility’s managers, and that the state will take a transfer of any resident the facility can’t care for — but only if the management asks it to.
On Tuesday, he and an aide ran through the steps the state has taken to assist nursing homes and to crack down on those not follow rules. These have included 51 infection control surveys, more than 3,000 calls to facilities and 2,731 complaint investigations. It has provided over 2 million pieces of protective gear as well. It has tested barely more than 2,000 residents and staff at just 42 facilities but is increasing its capacity to do tests.
Ultimately, though, it’s a situation fraught with risk: Dozens of workers come into each facility at each shift change, and any one of them may be infected without showing symptoms.
“What can you do going forward, I don’t know. It’s something we’re studying,” Cuomo said.
“Everybody wants to point at the nursing homes now. We knew the nursing homes were going to be a target [of the virus] and whatever we do, they will be a target. … They are doing a phenomenal job.
“In a nursing home, that coronavirus, if it figures out a way to get in there, and all it takes is one person. You do everything you can but at the same time you can’t do everything.”
The state Department of Health’s revised list of nursing home and adult care deaths is misleading because it does not show people who got sick in a facility and died elsewhere, and because the data may be outdated or incorrect. (For example, 14 residents of Diamond Hill in Rensselaer County had died from COVID as of Sunday, but the state list showed just four deaths there through Sunday.)
But it is the most complete list the state has released so far as it tries to provide a fuller, more accurate picture of the mounting death toll at elder-care facilities statewide.
Here are confirmed fatalities at the facilities on the list in and around the region:
- Daughters of Sarah 1
- Hudson Park 1
- Our Lady of Mercy 6
- Shaker Place 3
- Teresian House 10
- The Grand at Guilderland 3
- The Pines at Catskill 2
- Diamond Hill 4
- Eddy Memorial 1
- Glens Falls Center 6
- The Pines at Glens Falls 2
- Fort Hudson Nursing 6
Additionally, The Pines at Catskill, The Pines at Glens Falls and St. Johnsville Rehabilitation and Nursing each have one presumed death, while Glens Falls Center has four.
The state lists no deaths at adult-care facilities north of the New York City region.