Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday admitted that his lack of transparency in reporting the true magnitude of coronavirus-related deaths in NY State nursing homes was a mistake, but denied the charges of a cover-up, arguing his administration merely delayed the information but did not intend to hide it.
“All the deaths in the nursing homes and in the hospitals were always fully, publicly, and accurately reported,” Cuomo said at a press conference in Albany, explaining: “The numbers were the numbers. Always.”
More than 15,000 nursing home residents in NY State died from the coronavirus, but they reported only about 8,500 deaths.
Two weeks ago, after NY Attorney General Letitia James accused the Cuomo administration of seriously under-reporting those deaths, the state updated its figures and added thousands of names to the official tally. The state later raised those numbers following a court order.
In late January, AG James issued a report on her preliminary investigations of allegations of COVID-19-related neglect of nursing home residents across New York State with the following OAG’s preliminary findings:
- A larger number of nursing home residents died from COVID-19 than DOH data reflected.
- Lack of compliance with infection control protocols put residents at increased risk of harm during the COVID-19 pandemic in some facilities.
- Nursing homes that entered the pandemic with low U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Staffing ratings4 had higher COVID-19 fatality rates than facilities with higher CMS Staffing ratings.
- Insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for nursing home staff put residents at increased risk of harm during the COVID-19 pandemic in some facilities.
- Insufficient COVID-19 testing for residents and staff in the early stages of the pandemic put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities.
- 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.
Gov. Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, last week told a few state elected officials that the state had withheld data from the Legislature, fearing a pending federal civil rights investigation by the Trump administration. The governor on Monday blamed the delay on his office’s dealings with the federal inquiry. “There was a delay,” he said.
“We paused the state legislature’s request while we were finishing the DOJ request,” Cuomo said. “Everyone was busy. We’re in the midst of managing a pandemic. There was a delay in providing the press and the public all that additional information.”
Last week, The Associated Press reported that more than 9,000 recovering coronavirus patients in New York state were released from hospitals into nursing homes in the early stage of the pandemic. But a report by the NY health department suggested that those had not contributed to the raised death toll in nursing homes. “These patients could not have been responsible for introducing COVID into their nursing home, as they had COVID prior to going to the hospital for treatment and before being readmitted,” the DOH report said.
On March 25, the Cuomo administration barred nursing homes from refusing applicants infected with COVID-19. The move was criticized by advocates for nursing home residents and their relatives, who said it probably increased the spread of the virus when the state’s nursing home already had the highest death toll in the US.