State Watch

New York may be undercounting coronavirus deaths in nursing homes: AP

New York’s coronavirus death toll for nursing homes may be significantly underestimated due to its counting methods, according to an analysis by The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

New York is unique among states, the AP notes, in that it counts residents as assisted living fatalities if they die on the facility’s property but not if they were taken to hospitals and died there. Officially, 6,600 people in the state have died of the virus in nursing homes, but with the addition of these deaths, it could be thousands more, according to the AP.

Federal regulators require nursing homes to submit weekly data on coronavirus deaths whether they occurred in the facility or a hospital, but the requirement was imposed in May, after the peak of New York infections.

About 20 percent of facilities in the state reported deaths of residents from early June to mid July. During that period, federal data counted 323 deaths, compared to 195 in the state count. Even half of this undercount from the beginning of the pandemic would mean thousands more resident deaths than the state figures convey, according to the AP.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) administration has declined to release the full figures. In a legislative hearing on outbreaks in nursing homes, state Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D) called the current counting methods “a problem.”

“It seems, sir, that in this case you are choosing to define it differently so that you can look better,” Rivera told state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.

There is other evidence of undercounting as well, including state health department surveys indicating 21,000 nursing home beds are now empty, 13,000 more than had been expected.

“While 15 states do not even publicly release any long term care fatality information and in the absence of a consistent federal standard for reporting long term care data, New York was an early leader in providing daily facility-specific information,” a spokesperson for the state health department told The Hill in a statement.

“New York is only one of 9 states that reports both confirmed and presumed in facility deaths and no one has been clearer in personalizing the human cost of the pandemic, which is why we required facilities to notify residents and families within 24 hours of any COVID case or fatality or face a penalty,” the spokesperson added.

Cuomo has frequently dismissed questions about state nursing home deaths as political.

“Go talk to 34 other states first. Go talk to the Republican states now — Florida, Texas, Arizona — ask them what is happening in nursing homes. It’s all politics,” he said in July.

“We’re trying to find out what worked and what didn’t work and that means trying to find patterns,” Bill Hammond, who works on health policy for the nonprofit Empire Center think tank, told the AP. “You can’t do that if you have the wrong data.”

—Updated at 5:22 p.m.

Tags Andrew Cuomo Coronavirus New York Nursing home
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