ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- How COVID-related nursing facility deaths were reported in New York has become the subject of multiple investigations at the state and federal levels. It’s also become the focus of news agencies and reporters as they try to find ways to get to bottom of the big question surrounding this issue.
Who’s responsible for nursing home COVID-related deaths and did the N.Y. Department of Health’s (DOH) mandate requiring nursing facilities to take in recovering COVID-positive patients in effect from March 25-May 10, 2020 have a direct impact on the number of overall deaths during that time.
The answer is evasive with currently available information.
The state has regularly posted the number of COVID-related nursing facility deaths since last year and has begun including the number of deaths that occurred out of facilities. The report does not show the number of deaths per month.
N.Y. isn’t the only government or government agency that has had problems with reporting COVID-related nursing facility information. Data quality checks done by the CDC on reported COVID-19 cases in nursing facilities revealed that “facilities might have misinterpreted instructions and that cumulative case counts, rather than weekly case counts, were being entered.”
The finding was part of a report published in the January 8, 2021 edition of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The report looked at nursing facility COVID-19 rates between March 25-November 22, 2020.
The CDC did not require states to start reporting nursing home resident COVID-related deaths until April 26. They gave nursing facilities until May 25 to begin routine reporting. Therefore, the rate of deaths is not available prior to the week ending May 31, 2020.
This leaves no basis for comparison between N.Y.’s reported deaths and the number of deaths reported to the CDC by facilities in April. The total number of nursing home deaths by state cannot be isolated by month. Making it difficult to track trends like the infection rate versus the number of nursing facility deaths.
The number of nursing facility COVID-related resident deaths daily is available for each state on the CDC’s website. They also made available the data set used to calculate the death total and while the data source can be viewed, information cannot be isolated by state or filtered without manually sorting through nearly 600K lines of information.
NEWS10 reached out to the CDC asking about month-specific nursing home COVID-related deaths and was told to contact the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). In addition to this information, NEWS10 also asked CMS if reported deaths on the CDC tracker included the number of nursing facility residents.
Nursing home COVID-related death information is readily available through the Empire Center for Justice’s website. The information can be downloaded and viewed as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet then sorted.
NEWS10 did this and found that the greatest number of nursing home COVID-related deaths were reported in April 2020 but there is no way to verify the information without FOILing it from the DOH. According to the CDC, the highest reported number of deaths any given day in N.Y. occurred on April 6.
NEWS10 sent a FOIL request to the DOH for COVID-related nursing home resident deaths, both in and out of facilities by month for the entire year of 2020. NEWS10 also FOILed the number of COVID-19 related deaths and the number of COVID-related nursing facility deaths for all states between March-December 2020 from the CMS.