NEW YORK - Another 1,700 coronavirus deaths have been reported in nursing homes and adult care facilities around the state.
According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office, 4,813 people have previously died from COVID-19 in the state’s nursing homes since March 1.
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That number includes people believed to have been killed by the virus before their cases could be confirmed by a lab test.
An exact number remains uncertain despite the state’s latest disclosure.
The list does not include nursing home residents who were transferred to hospitals before dying.
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Nearly two dozen nursing homes, mostly in New York City and on Long Island, have reported at least 40 deaths.
Parker Jewish Institute in Queens and Isabella Geriatric Center in Manhattan have reported the highest number of deaths: 71 and 64, respectively.
"I would take those numbers with a grain of salt,” Cuomo said, acknowledging for the first time the state tally still does not include nursing home residents who died at hospitals or died in private homes after being removed from the nursing homes by family members.
Advocates say the actual number of deaths, which in all cases are reported by the homes, is surely much higher.
“I don’t think you’re ever going to get a complete and accurate count,” said Elder Abuse & Nursing Home Negligence Attorney John Dalli.
Dalli says the death toll will rise. He blames a lack of staff at many facilities and the governor's mandate that nursing homes admit COVID-19 patients discharged from hospitals who have no place to go. The state also gave nursing homes immunity from civil suits during the pandemic.
“I believe you’re going to see higher deaths and a higher death rate as a result of those decisions,” said Dalli.
“We’ve had really aggressive measures,” said SUNY Empire State College President Dr. Jim Malatras who is part of the governor's team mobilizing the state to fight COVID-19.
Administration officials defend its performance, saying it moved quickly to ban visits to nursing homes and distributed hundreds of thousands of masks, gloves, and gowns to them. In the last week, as hospital bed shortages became less of a concern, the governor made clear nursing homes have choices.
“If the nursing home says, 'I cannot provide care for this person,' then the nursing home must transfer the resident or call the Department of Health and say this person should be referred someplace else,” said Cuomo.
The governor has launched an investigation with the state attorney general of nursing homes which could include penalties and recommendations to fix the system.
An exclusive report by NY1 shed light on the rising death toll at Isabella Geriatric Center last week.