ALBANY — “Whether a person dies in a nursing home or a hospital … Who cares? They died.” screamed the headline in the New York Post next to a large headshot of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
And it wasn’t just the New York City tabloid, a frequent critic of the governor, bashing Cuomo following a bombshell report by the state Attorney General Letitia James that found the state had underreported the number of nursing home deaths due to COVID by some 50 percent.
Democrats and news outlets across the board, many of whom have been calling for an accurate death toll of nursing home residents for months, lambasted Cuomo and his administration for not just the actual number, but for hiding it for so long.
“Today’s report on the inaccurate reporting of COVID-related deaths in nursing homes is alarming and underscores the need for overdue transparency and accountability in the state’s pandemic response with respect to congregate care,” said Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, D-Bethlehem. “A major issue identified in today’s report highlights the need for further investigation into the state’s decision to require the admittance of COVID-positive residents into these facilities.”
Fahy is referring to a state directive issued in March that said no nursing home could deny admission to a COVID-positive patient or a patient suspected of having COVID. “All nursing homes must comply with the expedited receipt of residents returning from hospitals to nursing homes.”
The order, which has since been rescinded, essentially brought the virus to the most vulnerable living in the most vulnerable setting. For months, the governor refused to give a total number of people who perished in nursing homes as a result of that directive or otherwise.
According to James’ report, the state Department of Health had reported 8,677 nursing home residents died. But, since if did not include those residents who were taken to a hospital and died there the actual number is closer to 13,000. Since the report’s release, the state modified its count to 5,957 deaths at long term facilities and another 3,829 in hospitals for a total of 9,786.
Cuomo, during a press conference, refused to say the state had erred in its March directive, or its accounting of the deaths since the state’s overall death toll has not changed regardless of where the victims perished.
“It’s a tragedy. I understand the instinct to blame or find some relief for the pain your felling. It’s a tragedy and it’s a tragedy that continues today,” he said. “A third of all deaths in this nation are from nursing homes. New York state, we’re only about 28 percent, but we’re below the national average in number of deaths in nursing homes. But who cares [if] died in the hospital, died in a nursing home? They died.”
Perhaps more disturbing than the actual numbers are the other findings in the AG’s report and that include a lack of PPE, inadequate testing, rampant understaffing, a lack of compliance with regulations that were in place and insufficient disinfection protocols. The state oversees all private nursing homes.
“As the pandemic and our investigations continue, it is imperative that we understand why the residents of nursing homes in New York unnecessarily suffered at such an alarming rate,” James said in a statement. “Nursing homes residents and workers deserve to live and work in safe environments, and I will continue to work hard to safeguard this basic right during this precarious time.”