• N.Y. Severely Undercounted Virus Deaths in Nursing Homes, Report Says

    From Ubiquitous@21:1/5 to All on Sun Jan 31 04:30:51 2021
    XPost: alt.tv.pol-incorrect, alt.rush-limbaugh, alt.politics.usa
    XPost: sci.med.diseases

    The state attorney general, Letitia James, said it’s likely that the
    Cuomo administration failed to report thousands of Covid-19 deaths of
    nursing home residents.

    ALBANY, N.Y. — For most of the past year, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has
    tried to brush away a persistent criticism that undermined his national
    image as the man who led New York through the pandemic: that his
    policies had allowed thousands of nursing home residents to die of the

    But Mr. Cuomo was dealt a blow when the New York State attorney
    general, Letitia James, reported on Thursday morning that Mr. Cuomo’s administration had undercounted coronavirus-related deaths of state
    nursing home residents by the thousands.

    Just hours later, Ms. James was proved correct, as Health Department
    officials made public new data that added more than 3,800 deaths to
    their tally, representing nursing home residents who had died in
    hospitals and had not previously been counted by the state as nursing
    home deaths.

    The state’s acknowledgment increased the overall death toll related to
    those facilities by more than 40 percent. Ms. James’s report had
    suggested that the state’s previous tally could be off by as much as 50 percent.

    The findings do not change the overall number of Covid-19 deaths in New
    York — more than 42,000, the most of any state — but the recalculation
    in the number of nursing home deaths illustrates how unprepared the
    nursing home industry was in the first and deadliest weeks of the

    Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, had long dismissed the critiques of
    his policies governing those facilities as partisan attacks from the
    Trump administration and other Republican adversaries.

    But the report by Ms. James, a fellow Democrat, casts a renewed light
    on the state’s decision to send nursing home residents who had been hospitalized with the coronavirus back to the nursing homes, a policy
    that Mr. Cuomo has defended as following federal guidelines.

    At the same time, Ms. James’s assertion of an undercount of deaths gave credence to theories that the state may have intentionally played down
    the number of those deaths to avoid blame.

    “This is shocking and unconscionable,” said Assemblyman Richard N.
    Gottfried, the Democratic chairman of the Assembly Health Committee.
    “But not surprising.”

    Dr. Zucker said that the state website had always been clear that
    deaths it listed did “not include deaths outside of a facility.”

    “The word ‘undercount’ implies there are more total fatalities than
    have been reported,” he said. “This is factually wrong.”

    He also asserted that the lack of data on hospital deaths of nursing
    home residents was due to concern and caution about the accuracy of
    data that nursing homes supplied — an issue also raised by the attorney general. “D.O.H. does not disagree that the number of people
    transferred from a nursing home to a hospital is an important data
    point,” he said.

    The new data released by Dr. Zucker puts the total number of deaths
    connected to nursing homes at 12,743.

    Ms. James’s findings would seem to put her in rare conflict with Mr.
    Cuomo; she was the governor’s preferred candidate after Eric T.
    Schneiderman suddenly resigned as attorney general in 2018, and she
    readily embraced Mr. Cuomo’s political backing.

    Her report seemed certain to inspire more questions about the handling, oversight and performance of the state’s nursing homes in the early
    stages of the pandemic. Indeed, on Thursday, Mr. Cuomo’s critics in
    Washington and Albany had already seized on the attorney general’s
    report as evidence of his dishonesty, amid calls for Dr. Zucker to

    “This is now more than a nursing home scandal,” said Representative
    Elise Stefanik, a conservative Republican from upstate New York. “This
    is a massive corruption and cover-up scandal.”

    Deaths in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have
    accounted for about a third of the nation’s some 430,000 Covid-19
    deaths. Federal and state authorities have made vaccinating staff and
    residents at such facilities a top priority, though that effort has
    been slower than hoped.

    But even as state officials in New York tackle vaccine shortages, the
    count of deaths in the state’s nursing homes remained a source of
    controversy. Mr. Cuomo had been accused of obscuring a more accurate
    estimate of nursing home deaths, because the state’s count only
    included the number of deaths at the facilities, rather than accounting
    for the residents who died at a hospital after being transferred there.

    For its report, Ms. James’s office surveyed dozens of homes and found consistent discrepancies between deaths reported to the attorney
    general’s investigators and those reported to and officially released
    by the Health Department.

    In one instance, an unnamed facility reported to the Health Department
    that it had 11 confirmed and presumed deaths on site through early
    August. The attorney general’s survey of that same facility, however,
    found 40 deaths, including 27 at the home and 13 in hospitals.

    Another facility reported one confirmed and six presumed Covid-19
    deaths to the Health Department, according to the report. The attorney general’s office, however, said the facility reported to its
    investigators that there were more than four times that number — 31
    dead — by mid-April.

    The attorney general’s report also scrutinized immunity provisions
    granted to health care providers codified by Mr. Cuomo in the state
    budget. The report said the protection of immunity may have prompted
    some nursing homes to make financially motivated decisions at the
    height of the pandemic, like admitting patients even when the
    facilities were facing staff shortages or were unequipped to care for

    Indeed, Ms. James’s office is still investigating and weighing legal
    action stemming from complaints made to her office about shortcomings
    and neglect that may have placed residents at risk. Those include
    allegations of nursing homes that failed to isolate Covid-19 patients,
    maintain stockpiles of personal protective equipment, properly screen
    employees for the virus or ensure adequate staffing levels even before
    the pandemic.

    The report also cast a critical eye on perhaps the governor’s most
    criticized decision since the beginning of the pandemic last year: a
    March 25 directive from the Health Department that ordered nursing
    homes to accept and readmit patients who had tested positive.

    The Health Department responded in July with a report that sought to
    absolve the state from any blame resulting from the March directive.
    The report concluded that most of the patients sent back to nursing
    homes “were no longer contagious when admitted and therefore were not a
    source of infection.” The Health Department concluded that the virus
    was instead spread by employees who did not know they were contagious.

    While acknowledging that Mr. Cuomo’s memo to nursing homes was
    consistent with federal guidance, the attorney general’s report said
    the governor’s policy “may have put residents at increased risk of harm
    in some facilities.” Under the policy, some nursing homes stopped
    testing residents for the coronavirus, a factor that might have
    obscured data reported by the facilities, the report found.

    For its part, the Health Department also cited Ms. James’s findings on
    the March 25 memo, saying the report had found no evidence that the
    policy outlined in the directive “resulted in additional fatalities in
    nursing homes.”

    Ms. James’s report also found a number of homes that “failed to comply
    with critical infection-control policies,” including failing to isolate residents who had tested positive for the virus or screen employees for

    The state’s reporting of nursing homes deaths has been the focus of a
    lawsuit by a conservative economic think tank, the Empire Center for
    Public Policy, which has sued, seeking to force the Health Department
    to release more complete data.

    Last year, the Democratic-controlled Legislature held hearings partly
    in an attempt to pry the data from the administration, to no avail.

    Dr. Zucker was supposed to testify next week during a state budget
    hearing, where lawmakers were expected to press him on nursing home
    deaths, but his appearance was recently pushed back to late February.

    The Democratic chairman of the investigations and government operations committee in the State Senate, James Skoufis, who has accused the
    Health Department of stonewalling investigators, suggested on Thursday
    that he would use a subpoena to compel the release of data from Dr.
    Zucker’s office.

    “The D.O.H. commissioner’s unresponsiveness to the Legislature’s many
    questions and concerns is insulting and unacceptable,” the senator said
    in a statement.

    The attorney general asked 62 nursing homes — about a tenth of the
    state’s total — for information about on-site and in-hospital deaths
    related to the virus; investigators then cross-referenced that
    information with public reports of deaths issued by the Health
    Department. The deaths reported to the attorney general’s office at
    most of those facilities totaled 1,914, compared to the state’s much
    lower count of 1,229.

    Ms. James said that her office was investigating those circumstances
    “where the discrepancies cannot reasonably be accounted for by error or
    the difference in the question posed.”

    The attorney general said she was continuing to conduct investigations
    of more than 20 nursing homes across the state that “presented
    particular concern,” noting that “other law enforcement agencies also
    have ongoing investigations relating to nursing homes.”

    Under normal circumstances, the attorney general’s office “would issue
    a report with findings and recommendations after its investigations and enforcement activities are completed,” Ms. James said in her report.
    “However, circumstances are far from normal.”

    Trump won.

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