Far-left Attorney General Letitia James has, for months, been examining discrepancies between the number of deaths being reported by the state’s Department of Health, under Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo‘s administration, and the number of deaths reported by the homes themselves.
Cuomo has been heavily criticized for ordering nursing homes to accept COVID-positive patients early last year, when the pandemic become more widespread and the elderly were known to be most vulnerable to the virus.
The U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating Cuomo’s policy as well.
“This is now more than a nursing home scandal, this is a massive corruption and coverup scandal at the highest level of New York State Government implicating the Governor, the Secretary to the Governor, the New York State Health Commissioner and the Governor’s staff,” said Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York. “Every New Yorker deserves transparency, accountability and answers regarding the orchestration of this illegal coverup.”
James’s investigators looked at a sample of 62 of the state’s roughly 600 nursing homes.
They reported 1,914 deaths of residents from COVID-19, while the state Department of Health logged only 1,229 deaths at those same facilities.
If that same pattern exists statewide, James’s report said, it would mean the state is underreporting deaths by nearly 56%.
Part of the gap is explained by a decision by New York’s health agency to exclude from its count the number of nursing home patients who die after being transferred to hospitals.
Hospital and nursing home officials say the state has ready access to that figure.
Health Commissioner Howard Zucker has said at times that the state is working on compiling that data.
His department has not responded to repeated requests by the Associated Press for that figure in recent weeks.
As of Tuesday, the state was reporting 8,711 deaths in nursing homes statewide.
James’s report, which her office described as preliminary, mirrors findings by others who have scrutinized New York’s statistics on nursing home deaths.
An Associated Press analysis published in August concluded that the state could be understating deaths by as much as 65%, based on discrepancies between its totals and numbers being reported to federal regulators.
That analysis was, like James’s report, based on only a slice of data, rather than a comprehensive look at all homes in the state.
Cuomo promised to take a “special” effort to protect nursing homes early on last spring.
He tasked James last year with investigating how nursing homes were complying with COVID-19 guidelines last year.
James said her review found that a lack of infection controls at nursing homes also put residents at increased risk of harm, while nursing homes that had lower federal scores for staffing had higher COVID-19 fatality rates.
“The Attorney General’s findings following the investigation into Governor Cuomo’s mishandling of nursing homes are shocking and confirms that proper safety protocols were not put in place,” said Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of New York. “As I’ve been saying for months, Governor Cuomo and the NYSDOH did not adequately provide enough PPE for our most vulnerable and their staff. Because of their failed leadership, tens of thousands of New Yorkers were put at risk, many of whom lost their lives.”