Cuomo aides kept nursing home death numbers quiet. A damning new report from The New York Times suggests Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office knew as early as last June how deadly the governor’s plans were proving for nursing home residents, but still concealed this information from the public.
Early in the pandemic, Cuomo had ordered that nursing homes could not reject patients from returning to those facilities after testing positive for COVID-19 and being hospitalized. He also barred the deaths of COVID-19 patients transferred from nursing homes to hospitals after catching the virus from being counted among nursing home COVID-19 deaths.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top advisers successfully pushed state health officials to strip a public report of data showing that more nursing-home residents had died of Covid-19 than the administration had acknowledged, according to people with knowledge of the report’s production.
The July report, which examined the factors that led to the spread of the virus in nursing homes, focused only on residents who died inside long-term-care facilities, leaving out those who had died in hospitals after becoming sick in nursing homes. As a result, the report said 6,432 nursing-home residents had died—a significant undercount of the death toll attributed to the state’s most vulnerable population, the people said. The initial version of the report said nearly 10,000 nursing-home residents had died in New York by July last year, one of the people said.
The changes Mr. Cuomo’s aides and health officials made to the nursing-home report, which haven’t been previously disclosed, reveal that the state possessed a fuller accounting of out-of-facility nursing-home deaths as early as the summer. The Health Department resisted calls by state and federal lawmakers, media outlets and others to release the data for another eight months.
Author(s): Joe Palazzolo, Jimmy Vielkind, Rebecca Davis O’Brien
What DeRosa told lawmakers had them aghast. Not only had Cuomo misled them; he had, in DeRosa’s telling, done it in order to keep relevant information hidden from U.S. investigators. If the latter were true, Cuomo administration officials could well be guilty of federal-obstruction and false-statements crimes. In other words, so shameful was their actual reason for covering up nursing-home deaths — namely, to make a wayward governor look like a fantasy hero — that Cuomo administration officials figured it was better to be seen as potentially felonious than to admit their crude political motivation.
As the New York Times reported on Thursday night, in the spring of 2020, DeRosa and other members of Cuomo’s inner circle, who have no public-health background, studiously purged the nursing-home death data from a report compiled by state health officials. The Justice Department was not eyeing them at the time. That happened months later, in August, when the feds began seeking information about the treatment of, and record-keeping about, COVID-stricken nursing-home residents by New York and three other states.
So what was going on at the time of the purge? Well — whaddya know! — it turns out that was just when Cuomo was quietly securing the state ethics approvals that would permit him to earn outside income from a book he’d decided to write. The book would inform the world about his unparalleled mastery of the COVID crisis — which, oddly enough, he contemplated as a work of nonfiction.
In its January 28 report, the attorney general’s office argued that low staffing levels in nursing homes was associated with higher death rates from the novel coronavirus. As evidence of that connection, the report presented a table (reproduced in Table 1 below) comparing death rates in nursing homes based on their star ratings for staffing from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). It showed that homes with the lowest staffing grade of one star had an aggregate COVID-19 mortality rate of 7.13 percent, compared to 4.94 percent for homes with a five-star rating.
However, that table was based on the limited data available in mid-November, which encompassed 6,645 deaths, only half the number that are documented now.
When that table is brought up to date, it shows no clear association between lower staffing grades and higher coronavirus mortality (see Table 2). Homes with a three-star staff rating showed the largest percentage of deaths, at 13.62, compared to 12.98 for two-star homes and 12.14 for one-star homes.
Aides to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo rewrote a July report by state health officials to conceal the number of nursing home residents who died from coronavirus in the state, according to reports.
Cuomo’s top aides worked to hide the fact that more than 9,000 nursing home residents had died from the virus in the state at the time, according to reports from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
Cuomo’s aides clashed with the state’s health officials over the July report, which the Health Department worked on with the consulting firm McKinsey. The report included a chart comparing nursing home deaths in New York with other states, according to the New York Times, which showed that New York’s total of 9,250 deaths was far greater than that of the next highest state, New Jersey, which had 6,150 at that time.
The chart put the death toll at about 50 percent higher than the number the Cuomo administration had touted at the time.
New coronavirus cases among nursing home residents have plummeted by nearly 80 percent from late December to early February, according to The New York Times.
In an analysis of federal data, the news outlet found that outbreaks at long-term care facilities have dropped at a rate almost double that of the general population.
“I’m almost at a loss for words at how amazing it is and how exciting,” David Gifford, the chief medical officer for the American Health Care Association, told the Times. “If we are seeing a robust response with this vaccine with the elderly with a highly contagious disease, I think that’s a great sign for the rest of the population.”
Despite the fact long-term care workers were the first in Ontario invited to get the COVID-19 vaccine last December, a little more than half of them have volunteered to get the shot.
As of this week, only 55,000 of 100,000 long-term care workers in Ontario have been inoculated, according to the province’s Ministry of Health.
Dr. Hugh Boyd, chair of the Ontario Medical Association’s section on long-term care and care of the elderly, said a lack of confidence in the vaccine and pervasive myths about the quick development and safety of the shot is at the root of the low numbers.
If you’re in a nursing home operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, data shows you’re about half as likely to contract COVID-19 as you are in a non-VA senior living facility, and 13 times less likely to die from the disease.
In the past year, 1,679 residents of VA nursing homes, which it calls community living centers or CLCs, contracted COVID-19, and 143 died “within 30 days after a positive test,” according to the department.
With more than 30,000 American veterans living in these facilities, that translates to an infection rate of 5.47 per 100 people and a death rate of less than .5%.
Attorneys insist nursing home negligence cases are not designed to target nursing home employees and other frontline workers caring for facility residents during the pandemic. As Mosher notes, “In most cases, these people are just as much victims as the residents.”
Instead, the lawsuits are going after nursing home owners and operators, a population that has become increasingly dominated by private equity firms, shell companies, and other secretive for-profit operations, which make staffing and other decisions about quality of care in boardrooms and corporate offices far removed from those who are impacted.
The results of these cases are not about simply scoring million-dollar settlements and padding lawyers’ pockets, say legal experts. Torts and class action suits are an important deterrent to bad behaviors in an industry that has become known for lax oversight.
Eight states have seen the biggest drops in nursing home use: Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Many of these states have experienced fast growth in their minority populations or have more generous state allocations of Medicaid funds for long-term care services delivered in the home.
Growing diversity is actually the second-biggest reason for lower nursing home residence, accounting for one-fifth of the decline, according to the study, which was funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration and is based on U.S. Census data.
What caught the Justice Department’s eye was Gov. Cuomo’s claim that New York’s nursing-home deaths were lower than many other states’ and that his March 25 order didn’t contribute to the extremely high number of New Yorkers who died from Covid. Given the virus’s disproportionate effect on the elderly, sick and frail, this seemed unlikely. On Aug. 26, Justice’s Civil Rights Division, relying on its jurisdiction to investigate government-run facilities under the federal Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, asked the Cuomo administration for data on New York’s publicly run nursing homes, which account for less than 5% of nursing homes in the state.
In September, New York produced data showing it had underreported Covid deaths in government-run nursing homes by a third. The undercounting appeared to be due to several factors. First, when a nursing-home resident who contracted Covid died after being transported to a hospital for treatment, New York didn’t count it as a “nursing-home death.” Second, New York didn’t include deaths occurring before the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began requiring Covid reporting from nursing homes in mid-May. CMS made reporting prior Covid deaths optional, and New York apparently elected to keep the information to itself.
The state is closing the two COVID-19 recovery centers for nursing home residents in Meriden and Torrington because the number of infections has fallen to the point that they are no longer necessary.
“Athena Health Care Systems was pleased to partner with the state of Connecticut to operate COVID recovery centers in Meriden and Torrington to help some of our most vulnerable patients recover as well as keep our nursing home residents safe,” Athena Director of Marketing Timothy Brown said.
“We are pleased to say that we are now able to close both recovery centers. It really is positive news — it means that things are going in the right direction when it comes to this pandemic and that the recovery center model has worked.”