ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The New York State Comptroller audit found that New York State’s Department of Health (DOH) underestimated nursing home COVID deaths. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said that he wasn’t surprised with the audit findings, but is disappointed that it confirmed what families who lost loved ones were feeling.

According to the audit, nursing home COVID deaths were underestimated by 4,100 and at times, more than 50% during the pandemic. But according to the audit, DOH was unprepared to respond to infectious disease outbreaks in nursing homes even prior to the pandemic.

“With the underreporting of the deaths, relatively early on in the pandemic, the Department of Health corrected internally their accounting and the numbers,” explained DiNapoli. “But that never got out to the public. So there was in effect a misuse of information at the higher levels of leadership in the state beyond the department. So in effect, the department, from my perspective, had the responsibility to get the real story out. And they seemed unable to do that.”

The comptroller provided a list of recommendations to fix some of these issues. “What we are really talking about for the Executive, for the Governor’s Office, is they really need to examine how communications are handled and to make sure data and information is not manipulated to put a narrative out there that is contrary to the facts,” Dinapoli said.

Stephen Hanse, president of the New York State Health Facilities Association, said that Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed budget invests in long-term care. He said he believes it will help reverse years of disinvestment.

“Caring for the elderly and most vulnerable is a partnership,” said Hanse. “It’s a partnership between providers and government.”

The DOH said it appreciates the goals of the audit but doesn’t agree with all of its conclusions.

Andrew Cuomo was in office during the majority of the time period audited. His spokesperson, Rich Azzopardi, stated, “As the number of out of facility deaths were reported last January, this is not news, however what is peculiar is the comptrollers release of the audit now. — But no one has ever accused him of being above politics.”