The New York State Department of Health may have undercounted the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes by upwards of 50 percent, according to a new report from the Attorney General’s Office.
New York AG Letitia James released the report on her office’s ongoing investigation into nursing homes’ responses ✎ EditSignto the pandemic that was critical of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Department of Health’s initial guidance to admit COVID-19 patients into nursing homes.
The investigations also found 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.”
Investigators looked at a sample of 62 of the state’s approximately 600 nursing homes. They reported 1,914 deaths of residents from COVID-19, while the state Department of Health logged 1,229 deaths at those same facilities
James said that the initial findings will lead to an ongoing investigation into more than 20 nursing homes whose reported conduct during the first wave of COVID-19 infections “presented particular concern.”
“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,” she said.
The report found that the number of COVID-19-related deaths in nursing homes was dramatically underreported, and there was a lack of compliance with infection control protocols that put residents at increased risk of harm. There was also an insufficient amount of PPE for nursing home staff, which put residents at additional risk.
According to the findings in the report, due to the current model, there may have also been financial opportunities for some nursing homeowners during the pandemic.
“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,” the report states.
Cuomo’s initial guidance regarding COVID-19 patients and nursing homes also came back into question.
“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.”
James said that on April 23 last year, at Cuomo’s behest, her office set up a hotline to receive complaints from family members prohibited from in-person visits to nursing homes, prompting the initial investigation.
The office received more than 770 complaints on that hotline through Aug. 3, and an additional 179 through Nov. 16, James said. There were also allegations of COVID-19-related neglect of residents.
James’ report also says that the “lack of nursing home compliance with the executive order requiring communication with family members caused avoidable pain and distress.”
“While we cannot bring back the individuals we lost to this crisis, this report seeks to offer transparency that the public deserves and to spur increased action to protect our most vulnerable residents,” James said. “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.”
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