ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — A report from New York State Attorney General Tish James has found that the number of COVID-19 related nursing home deaths may have been undercounted by up to 50%.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say the report validates what they’ve been saying for months — that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State department of health have not been transparent about the number of COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents.
Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt is calling for Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to resign.
“How can he lead when we have this report that shows he lied to the people of New York?” Ortt said.
“Look, this was a pandemic that came out of nowhere. You’re not going to be perfect on the things you do, but by denying them you’re not helping in the future,” said Republican State Senator Jim Tedisco.
Democrat Senator James Skoufis weighed in, saying, “The findings, while disturbing, are unsurprising.” He continued, “The DOH Commissioner’s unresponsiveness to the Legislature’s many questions and concerns is insulting and unacceptable. While his next appearance before the Legislature was delayed until late February, it is my full expectation that he provides answers by the time of his testimony, otherwise, he can anticipate an unpleasant and uncomfortable hearing. Without answers by then, I will support a move to compel the information from DOH.”
According to the report, the Department of Health had reported 6,423 resident deaths in nursing homes due to COVID-19 from March to August 3, 2020. But that doesn’t include residents who got sick and later died at a hospital. Those numbers were counted separately.
In addition to the death findings, the report also found insufficient personal protective equipment, or PPE, in nursing homes and insufficient COVID-19 testing.
“I think this report really highlights what we were saying early on in this pandemic that nursing homes, quite frankly, did not receive the necessary priority,” said President & CEO of NYSHFA | NYSCAL Stephen Hanse.
Senator Tedisco says lawmakers in the majority with subpoena power should use it to get more answers or there should be further investigation.
“It’s time to either use that subpoena power or pass my bipartisan, non-partisan bill with Assemblyman Ron Kim, who is sponsoring it in the Assembly for an outside independent commission with subpoena power,” Tedisco said.
In a statement, New York State Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker says there was “no ‘undercount'”:
The OAG’s report is only referring to the count of people who were in nursing homes but transferred to hospitals and later died. The OAG suggests that all should be counted as nursing home deaths and not hospital deaths even though they died in hospitals. That 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 has consistently made clear that our numbers are reported based on the place of death.