New York

Attorney General: Many NY nursing homes fumbled COVID response, state underreported deaths up to 50 percent

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ALBANY — The state Attorney General’s Office today issued a report indicating many nursing homes failed to follow infection control policies amid the pandemic and that the state Department of Health undercounted nursing home COVID deaths by as much as 50%.

The agency is continuing to investigate more than 20 nursing homes where reported conduct during the late winter/early spring COVID surge was especially concerning.

Read the full report: New York Attorney General’s report on nursing home response to COVID-19 pandemic

Deaths attributed to the virus continue to be reported at nursing homes across the state, 11 months after COVID was first confirmed in New York state, and New York Attorney General Letitia James said it is important to know why nursing home residents have suffered the pandemic’s effects at such a disproportionate rate.

“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,” she said in a prepared statement accompanying the report. “Nursing homes residents and workers deserve to live and work in safe environments, and I will continue to work hard to safeguard this basic right during this precarious time.”

The actual number of deaths of New York nursing home residents remains undisclosed, or perhaps even unknown. The federal government places the total at more than 6,000. The state places it at more than 8,000, and acknowledges that’s only a partial count, but refuses to disclose the full total.

James cited this refusal as obscuring the full impact COVID has had on the state’s nursing homes, but also said some nursing homes appear to have underreported deaths to the state.

One nursing home reported five confirmed and six presumed COVID deaths to DOH, for example, but told the Attorney General’s Office that there were 27 deaths on-site and 13 more at hospitals.

The report also cites numerous violations of infection-control protocol and policy by the facilities themselves, but adds that immunity granted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on March 23 makes it unclear whether any facilities or individuals can be held accountable for failing to protect residents in their care.

Among the report’s findings, according to a release issued Thursday:

  • A larger number of nursing home residents died from COVID-19 than the Department of Health data reflected;
  • Lack of compliance with infection control protocols put residents at increased risk of harm;
  • Nursing homes that entered the pandemic with low U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Staffing ratings had higher COVID-19 fatality rates;
  • Insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for nursing home staff put residents at increased risk of harm;
  • Insufficient COVID-19 testing for residents and staff in the early stages of the pandemic put residents at increased risk of harm;
  • The current state reimbursement model for nursing homes gives a financial incentive to owners of for-profit nursing homes to transfer funds to related parties (ultimately increasing their own profit) instead of investing in higher levels of staffing and PPE;
  • Lack of nursing home compliance with the executive order requiring communication with family members caused avoidable pain and distress; and
  • Government guidance requiring the admission of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities and may have obscured the data available to assess that risk.

This story is developing and will be updated

Read the full report: New York Attorney General’s report on nursing home response to COVID-19 pandemic


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