Feds ask N.Y. for more stats on nursing home COVID infections, deaths

Governor's OfficeGov. Andrew Cuomo holds a COVID-19 briefing on Oct. 26.
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Governor's Office

Gov. Andrew Cuomo holds a COVID-19 briefing on Oct. 26.

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The U.S. Department of Justice has ramped up its review of COVID 19-related nursing home deaths in New York, requesting substantially more data than from the state Department of Health.

The DOJ made its first request for information in late August, asking Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania for data on COVID in state-run nursing homes, of which there are only a handful in New York state.

DOJ framed it as a precursor to a potential civil rights investigation.

The new request calls for New York to provide the number of residents and employees who have been infected with COVID and number who have died in every privately operated nursing home in the state.

DOJ frames this latest inquiry as part of its duty to enforce the False Claims Act “against nursing homes that provide grossly substandard care to their Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.”

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo and aides have attacked the requests as a low form of partisan politics, noting that the first request to four states with Democratic governors came on the eve of the Republican National Convention, and that the second request came in the last week of President Trump’s tight race for re-election.

Cuomo has been an unrelenting critic of the Trump administration all through the COVID pandemic and Trump has used Cuomo and other Democratic critics as punching bags to energize his Conservative base.

However, there is also a concerted push within New York state, led by Republicans and supported by some Democrats, for release of the same data that the feds are requesting. Cuomo and state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker have steadfastly refused, saying they want to be sure the data are accurate before they release any numbers.

The sticking point is place of death: More than 6,000 nursing home residents have died of COVID in nursing homes this year, but others — perhaps thousands more — have died in hospitals. The state either doesn’t know or isn’t saying how many died off-site.

To create an accurate analysis of COVID’s impact on nursing homes and draw lessons from it will require a list of all deaths and the circumstances surrounding them, and the state isn’t providing this — even though it likely has a fairly complete picture from its Health Electronic Response Data System, through which nursing homes and other health facilities send a continual stream of such information to the state Department of Health.

Critics say Cuomo is stalling full disclosure because it would tarnish his image of leading New York state from the first and worst COVID crisis in the nation to the most complete recovery.

The latest Department of Justice request for data specifically asks for the number of persons who were admitted to a private nursing home after testing positive for COVID-19. This detail cuts right to the core of the criticism of Cuomo — his administration on March 25 specifically ordered that nursing homes not deny admission because of COVID-positive status.

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