Audit: NY Health Department under Cuomo ‘misled the public’ on nursing home deaths

Getty Images, Pacific Press

A New York Department of Health audit released on Tuesday found that former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) failed to publicly account for the deaths of 4,100 nursing home residents in New York during the coronavirus pandemic between April 2020 and February 2021.  

The audit from state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli indicated that Health Department officials underreported the death toll by up to 50 percent and concluded that the Health Department fell short of its “ethical” and “moral” obligations to report numbers accurately.

But internally, the department had the more accurate data. As of Feb. 3, 2021, the administration’s internal data reported 13,147 nursing home resident deaths, but only 9,076 deaths were publicly reported, meaning more than 30 percent of deaths were not made public, the report showed.

“Rather than providing accurate and reliable information during a public health emergency, the department instead conformed its presentation to the executive’s narrative, often presenting data in a manner that misled the public,” the audit report said.

“Our audit findings are extremely troubling,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “The public was misled by those at the highest level of state government through distortion and suppression of the facts when New Yorkers deserved the truth.”

In August, Cuomo resigned from his post as governor amid sexual harassment allegations and questions over whether he intentionally downplayed nursing home death rates.

But during the pandemic, the governor touted New York as faring better than other states while his administration often only counted nursing home COVID-19–related fatalities for people who died in those facilities, not in hospitals, according to The New York Times.

“Whatever criticisms may now be directed at the prior administration relating to issues of transparency, or the particular categories of information that were publicly disclosed, those ultimately were matters for the executive chamber of the prior administration and not department personnel,” Kristin Proud, acting executive deputy commissioner of the state Health Department, said in response to the report, the Times reported.

Meanwhile, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), who conducted an investigation into the matter as well, said on Tuesday that the audit affirmed much of the same information that her office previously reported. 

“This audit affirms many of the findings that we uncovered last year about the state’s response to COVID, most notably that DOH and the former governor undercounted the number of deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50 percent,” James said in a statement. 

“My office will continue to monitor nursing home conditions and ensure the safety of our most vulnerable residents,” she added.

Tags Andrew Cuomo COVID-19 Cuomo scandals New York nursing home deaths
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