Everything you need to know about the Attorney General report on nursing home deaths

Letitia James

FILE – In this Aug. 6, 2020, file photo, New York State Attorney General Letitia James adjusts her glasses during a press conference in New York. New York may have undercounted COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents by as much as 50%, the state’s attorney general said in a report released Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. James has, for months, been examining discrepancies between the number of deaths being reported by the state’s Department of Health, and the number of deaths reported by the homes themselves. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- The New York Attorney General’s Office (AG) released a report criticizing the state for how it reports COVID-19 related nursing home deaths Thursday. For months government officials and agencies have criticized the state’s handling of COVID-19 nursing home deaths putting the blame on Governor Andrew Cuomo and Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker.

The number of nursing home deaths from COVID-19 was misleading. Insufficient testing of residents and staff at the beginning of the pandemic, lack of personal protection equipment (PPE), the admittance of COVID-19 positive patients to nursing facilities, and facility non-compliance were also found, according to the AG’s report.

Report from the attorney general

The DOH “undercounted” as many as 50% of COVID-19 related nursing home deaths, based on a report from AG Letitia James’ office. The report said the AG’s office also found nursing homes lacked proper PPE and did not comply with infection control regulations, attributing to the number of COVID-19 related nursing home deaths.

“While we cannot bring back the individuals we lost to this crisis, this report seeks to offer transparency that the public deserves and to spur increased action to protect our most vulnerable residents,” AG James said.

Lawmaker reaction

Dr. Zucker should resign said Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt, issuing stern condemnation, “How can he lead when we have this report that shows he lied to the people of New York?” Democrat Senator James Skoufis said, “The findings, while disturbing, are unsurprising.” He also said he expects Dr. Zucker to provide a more thorough explanation when he testifies before the legislature in February.

It “does not in any way change the total count of deaths but is instead a question of allocating the number of deaths between hospitals and nursing homes. DOH (Department of Health) has consistently made clear that our numbers are reported based on the place of death,” Dr. Zucker said.

Dr. Zucker’s response

Nursing home residents that died in the hospital from COVID-19 were counted in with the total number of deaths for the hospital as opposed to being counted in with the deaths that happened at nursing home facilities, Dr. Zucker explained in a lengthy response to the AG’s report.

“New York State Department of Health has always publicly reported the number of fatalities within hospitals irrespective of the residence of the patient, and separately reported the number of fatalities within nursing home facilities and has been clear about the nature of that reporting,” he said.

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