New York’s Gov. Cuomo Continues to Defend Claims of Cover-up Regarding COVID-19 Nursing Home Deaths

On January 28, 2021, New York’s Attorney General Letitia James released a report on her office’s investigation into nursing home responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The investigation found that more nursing home residents died from COVID than the New York State Department of Health (DOH) had made public. It found nursing home deaths from COVID may be undercounted by New York’s DOH by as much as 50 percent and found the DOH misstated in-facility deaths at many nursing homes as well. A complete copy of the report is available here.

The report caused an uproar in the media and renewed criticism of the handling of nursing homes during the pandemic by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration. In light of the report, New York’s Health Commissioner Howard Zucker finally acknowledged a new nursing home death toll of 12,743 due to COVID, which is more than 40 percent higher than the previously reported amount of 8,505. Overall, this means that almost one-third of New York’s more than 43,000 deaths are linked to nursing homes.

In a public statement, Zucker clarified that the Attorney General’s report was referring to the count of people who were in nursing homes but transferred to hospitals where they later died. He noted that the report suggests those deaths, of patients who were diagnosed with COVID in a nursing home but later died at a hospital, should be counted as nursing home deaths. Zucker claims the allocation of deaths in this manner does not change the total count of deaths from COVID but is a question of allocating the number of deaths between hospitals and nursing homes. Zucker’s statement is available here.

In light of the report, multiple GOP state legislators are asking the Justice Department to investigate an alleged “cover-up” of deaths from COVID-19 among nursing home residents. They have asked Acting U.S. Attorney General Monty Wilkinson to issue subpoenas for additional information and documentation from Gov. Cuomo’s administration regarding nursing home policies during the pandemic.

More bad news for the Cuomo administration came Wednesday, February 3, 2021, when Albany County Supreme Court Judge Kimberly O’Connor ruled the NY DOH must release all data related to nursing home deaths in New York caused by COVID. The decision was a response to an action filed by the Empire Center, which had issued a Freedom of Information law request to the DOH seeking that information. In response, the DOH delayed an actual response three times. Judge O’Connor gave the DOH five business days to respond to the request and awarded fees and court costs to the Empire Center.

Critics of Gov. Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic claim the true toll in New York nursing homes remains hidden and continue to push Gov. Cuomo’s administration and the NY DOH for full disclosure. We will continue to monitor this issue and to report on further developments of interest, as this has the potential to lead to increased litigation for involved parties.

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