NEW YORK – Attorney General Letitia James, Thursday, released a report on her office’s ongoing investigations into nursing homes’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, which found more people died of the virus in nursing homes than the state reported.
Since March, James has been investigating nursing homes throughout the state based on allegations of patient neglect and other concerning conduct that may have jeopardized the health and safety of residents and employees.
Among those findings were that a larger number of nursing home residents died from COVID-19 than the State Department of Health’s published nursing home data reflected and may have been undercounted by as much as 50 percent.
The investigations also revealed that nursing homes’ lack of compliance with infection control protocols put residents at increased risk of harm, and facilities that had lower pre-pandemic staffing ratings had higher COVID-19 fatality rates. Based on these findings and subsequent investigation, the attorney general is conducting ongoing investigations into more than 20 nursing homes whose reported conduct during the first wave of the pandemic presented particular concern.
Despite virtually every state lawmaker from the Hudson Valley criticizing the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo over the AG’s report, State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said the document “is clear that the total number of deaths in hospitals and nursing homes is full and accurate.”
Zucker said the word “undercount” is “factually wrong. In fact, the OAG report itself repudiates the suggestion that there was any ‘undercount’ of the total death number.”
The commissioner said the attorney general’s report “is only referring to the count of people who were in nursing homes but transferred to hospitals and later died.” He said the report “suggests that all should be counted as nursing home deaths and not hospital deaths even though the died in hospitals.”
Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro said James has “acted independently and with conviction to finally expose the truth about Governor Cuomo’s disastrous nursing home policy. ‘Incompetent government kills people’ and we now finally know just how many in our nursing homes.”
Molinaro said the public needs to know “the whole truth and an independent investigation into the policy and coverup must be pursued. The deception must end, the betrayal addressed and all those responsible held accountable for the excruciating pain caused by their dishonesty.”
Senator Sue Serino (R, Hyde Park) said the report “reaffirms he need for a full, independent investigation of the data the state continues to withhold.” She said the state legislature must follow the AG’s lead, “put politics aside and leverage its full subpoena power to get to the bottom of the policies and subsequent cover-up that fueled this negligence for too long.”
“The Attorney General’s report shows a damning and bleak picture of New York’s nursing homes. Attorney General James indicated that insufficient levels of staffing were at least partly to blame and said, ‘Poor initial staffing before the pandemic meant even less care for residents during the pandemic’” said Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D, Forestburgh), a registered nurse.
“For years, thousands of nurses and advocates around the state have rallied at the Capitol to fight for safe staffing in our hospitals and nursing homes. It is tragic that this is the result of the failure to heed those calls. This is unacceptable, and people must be held accountable. We can no longer wait for highly paid hospital and nursing home executives to properly police themselves. We have to take action on behalf of the people of this state, and we must ensure that patients have access to the care they need and deserve. The Attorney General’s report shows clear as day that safe staffing would have saved lives,” Gunther said.
“Many New Yorkers lost loved ones to COVID-19 in nursing homes following a horrendous order by the Governor to move COVID-19 positive patients into safe and secure nursing homes,” State Assemblyman Colin Schmitt (R, New Windsor) said.
“Elected officials and the public have faced months of obfuscation and delay from the administration in trying to get the real facts and data behind what happened. Today’s bombshell Attorney General’s report sadly confirms what many families who lost loved ones to this deadly order have been saying, Governor Cuomo’s administration massively undercounted COVID-19 nursing home deaths. It is now abundantly clear that all parties responsible should be subject to criminal charges and where applicable removal by the legislature,” Schmitt said.
“The Attorney General’s report represents a truly independent, evidence-based analysis of nursing home impacts during the pandemic. The findings, while disturbing, are unsurprising – they validate what many of us already suspected and validate what my investigative team and I have been piecing together since our legislative hearings in 2020,” said Senator James Skoufis (D, Cornwall).
“The Attorney General’s report further underscores the need for transparency and accountability within the Department of Health. As I commented earlier this week, the DOH Commissioner’s unresponsiveness to the Legislature’s many questions and concerns is insulting and unacceptable. While his next appearance before the Legislature was delayed until late February, it is my full expectation that he provides answers by the time of his testimony, otherwise he can anticipate an unpleasant and uncomfortable hearing. Without answers by then, I will support a move to compel the information from DOH,” Skoufis said.
“This underreporting of nursing home deaths is unacceptable to say the least. It is an outrageous coverup,” said Jacobson. “The Legislature needs to get to the bottom of this. I am calling for a full investigation followed by reforms so that this will never happen again,” said State Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson (D, Newburgh).
“Nursing homes have been at the epicenter of this pandemic with devastating impacts on residents, caregivers, and their families. The report released today by the Attorney General’s office is heartbreaking and further affirms that we need to get to the bottom of why so many nursing home residents lost their lives during this pandemic so that this never happens again. Families who have lost loved ones deserve answers, and I know that my Senate colleagues and I are united in our goal to increase transparency and accountability when it comes to the care of our most vulnerable residents,” said Senator Michelle Hinchey (D, Saugerties).