The 76-page report from Attorney General Letitia James takes direct aim at Governor Andrew Cuomo on an issue that has dogged him throughout the pandemic: nursing home deaths.
Cuomo has repeatedly been accused of underreporting the number of senior citizens who died in the state’s 619 state-licensed nursing homes from COVID-19. James says that underreporting could be by as much as 50%.
“Tish James had earned the gratitude of every New Yorker, certainly, every New Yorker in a nursing home or with a loved on in a nursing home,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who is also the Health Committee chair. “It’s really scandalous what she has uncovered in terms of the State Health Department.”
Back in April, Governor Cuomo announced a joint investigation into nursing homes with the Attorney General where they set up a hotline to field complaints.
According to James, her office independently investigated 949 of those complaints and found that there were staffing shortages at nursing homes, insufficient personal protective equipment or PPE, and systematic failures to follow proper quarantine procedures when it came to sick residents and staff.
Critics seized on the findings.
“There is no other way to put this. It’s a lie,” said Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt. “It is a lie to the people of New York State that this report has uncovered by the Attorney General. These numbers have been called for and asked for for months.”
Also at issue was a March 25th directive from the State Department of Health ordering nursing home residents who were hospitalized for COVID-19 back into those facilities. The order was rescinded under pressure on May 8th.
The report found that between March 25th and May 8th 6,326 COVID-19 patients were sent back into nursing homes, which resulted in 4,000 deaths.
The Cuomo administration issued its own report earlier this year denying the March 25th directive caused the high number of deaths, concluding it was infected staff. But James report says otherwise.
“These admissions may have contributed to increased risk of nursing home residents in facilities, and subsequent deaths,” the report reads.
“We have to make sense of this. We have to get the full truth,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday. “And we have to make sure it never, ever happens again. Nothing like this happens again. And we have to be honest about the numbers.”
Responding to the report in a statement, Health Commisisoner Howard Zucker concludes that there was no undercount, and blames nursing homes.
“All of this confirms that many nursing home operators made grave mistakes and were not adequately prepared for this pandemic, and that reforms are needed,” the statement reads.
Zucker’s statement also finally provides fatality data being sought for months, which includes how many people died in actual nursing homes, versus how many nursing home residents passed away after being taken to hospitals.
The administration says 5,957 residents died in facilities, with an additional 3,829 residents dying in hospitals for a total of 9,786 deaths.
“If they are releasing that data now, I think that confirms that they could have released it months and months ago. And certainly should have,” Gottfried said.
What’s unclear is what this means for the relationship between James and Cuomo, which had been very complimentary. This is an opening salvo is what could become a new rift between the two top Democrats.