COVID-19 Deaths Among New York Nursing Home Residents Rise by 40 Percent

COVID-19 Deaths Among New York Nursing Home Residents Rise by 40 Percent
A medic from Empress EMS loads a suspected COVID-19 patient from the Regency Extended Care Center into an ambulance in Yonkers, N.Y., on April 7, 2020. (John Moore/Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

Almost 4,000 nursing home residents in New York have died from COVID-19 after being moved to hospitals, state health officials disclosed Thursday, increasing the death toll among those elderly by more than 40 percent.

New York made the unusual move last year to split deaths among the group, only releasing figures for residents who died in nursing facilities.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration earlier Thursday of underreporting the number of nursing home deaths by as much as 50 percent.

She called on the state to ensure public reporting by each nursing home of COVID-19 deaths of residents both at the facility and at hospitals.

New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in response that the state didn’t underreport deaths, but had acknowledged for months that it was only publicly releasing deaths of residents that occurred at homes, not those that occurred at hospitals.

Now Zucker has reported new figures: the number of nursing home resident deaths rose from 8,740 to 12,743, about the same number that James’s investigation posited.

State health data that’s been audited shows that from March 1, 2020, to Jan. 19, 5,957 residents died in nursing facilities and 3,829 died in hospitals. Additionally, the state has 2,957 presumed COVID nursing home fatalities, or deaths believed to stem from the illness. The confirmed number of COVID-19 deaths in New York, 34,742, remains unchanged, Zucker said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the State address at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Jan. 11, 2021. (Hans Pennink/AP Photo)
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the State address at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Jan. 11, 2021. (Hans Pennink/AP Photo)
COVID-19 is the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.

James found that at least 4,000 of the deaths happened after state officials issued guidance stating that nursing home residents must not be denied re-admission or admission based solely on a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 diagnosis. Some of the deaths occurred in facilities that had no reported COVID-19 infections before receiving such admissions.

Critics say the policy led to more nursing home deaths. James said it was consistent with federal guidance that said nursing homes should admit residents they would have normally admitted. But she also wrote: “While additional data and analysis would be required to ascertain the effect of such admissions in individual facilities, these admissions may have contributed to increased risk of nursing home resident infection, and subsequent fatalities (whether due to actual transmission of infection from new residents to incumbent residents, or due to the facilities’ poor self-assessment during the admission process that was followed by failure to provide appropriate care to that patient or other residents.).”

Zucker said the attorney general “found no evidence” that the policy, which was changed about five weeks after it was issued in March 2020, “resulted in additional fatalities in nursing homes.” State officials previously released a report blaming staff members at the homes, along with visitors, for infecting residents.

The undercount in deaths sparked fresh calls for action against New York, which has one of the highest COVID-19 death tolls per 100,000 residents in the nation.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) urged James and the Department of Justice to subpoena Cuomo administration officials.

The department, which was looking into the issue last year, will decide if an investigation is warranted, the White House said Friday.

“Any investigation would be led by the Department of Justice. We’re in a new age where they’re independent and they will determine what path they take moving forward,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.

The department didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry.