AG Says NY Nursing Home Virus Deaths Undercounted

One of the top disputes regarding the COVID-19 pandemic is around the counting of victims. Some say that the number of deaths caused by the virus is undercounted, while others claim they are overcounted. With so much contradictory information out there, it is hard to know what to believe.

A report released in January this year caused a lot of stir in the news. Attorney General Letitia James, who was behind the document, drew attention to the undercounted virus deaths in nursing homes throughout New York. According to her research, the real number of cases can be up to 50% higher than the official count.

AG Letitia James’ Report

The Democratic official wrote a 76-page document based on an investigation that was conducted over months. During this time, she closely followed proceedings in 62 nursing homes (about 10% of the total number of institutions in the state).

As part of her analysis, she compared the number of deaths reported by nursing homes and the Department of Health, taking note of the differences. At the time of the investigation, 1,229 deaths at nursing homes were attributed to COVID-19, while government institutions reported a higher number of 1,914. Quite a discrepancy.

The main reason for the divergence is the methodology of counting. In New York, only those deaths are counted as COVID-19 fatalities that occurred within the facility. This means that people who died while in the hospital do not count as nursing home victims, although they were residents.

This policy implemented by the Department of Health was met with a lot of controversies. Some even state that conditions in the nursing homes are not improving on account of the protocol.

Controversies Around the March 25 Policy

Another highly controversial item is the March 25 Policy. This allowed nursing home patients who were still recovering from the virus to be released early from the hospital to help with overcrowding. However, it might have had a severe side-effect, leading to outbreaks in elderly facilities.

The report draws attention to the high number of COVID-19 deaths from nursing homes after the March 25 Policy. Approximately 4,000 residents have died under these conditions. However, the AG admitted that this discussion is still based on preliminary data. More information is needed to present a clear picture.

Lack of Infection Controls

Although there are clear COVID-19 protocols in place for nursing homes, these are not always met, putting the elderly at risk. Some of the core practices include:

  • At least one staff member with the necessary training must be designated to manage the infection prevention and control program in the facility.
  • All staff members, residents, and potential visitors have to be informed about precautionary measures.
  • Implement a restriction plan for visitors.
  • Source control measures, like staff wearing face masks while on the premises, and residents whenever they leave their room.
  • Secure the necessary supplies for infection prevention and control measures.

Understaffing

Furthermore, the investigation run by AG Letitia James uncovered that fatality rates were higher in those nursing homes that had lower staffing rates before the outbreak of the pandemic. In many cases, additional staff was not hired to these facilities. Although, given the many challenges of pandemic times, some extra help would have been warranted.

There is speculation about how a general measure signed by the governor of New York, might have discouraged facilities from taking on more employees and conducting training courses.

The change in the law was meant to offer more protection to health care providers (including nursing homes) against lawsuits. However, now it is unclear to what degree they can be held responsible if they do not offer proper protection to their patients.

Therefore, this is perhaps a better time than ever to contact a qualified lawyer if you suspect that your loved one has not received proper care in the nursing home. Make sure to contact a New York City nursing home abuse attorney, nationally known for representing senior citizens in their fight for justice. They will be up to date with the most recent legislative changes and will be able to guide you through the bureaucratic labyrinth.

Reactions

Howard Zucker, the New York State Health Commissioner did not receive the AG’s report that well. He stated that the discrepancy mentioned in the investigation is but a mere technicality. The difference refers to whether the deaths occurred in hospitals or nursing homes, but the overall number of the victims matches up. Zucker further argued that hospital fatalities were always reported as such, and not based on the deceased person’s residence.

However, Andrew Cuomo’s team acknowledged that the number of nursing home COVID-19 deaths does not represent all the victims. Until now, Andrew Cuomo refuted any criticism about his pandemic related policies as part of a blame game.

These developments do not only have implications in healthcare but in politics too. The governor’s image suffered a pretty tough blow. In the fall of 2020, the governor released a book in which he provides a detailed account of how he successfully managed the epicenter of the pandemic, New York. The number of nursing home deaths caused by the virus was part of the narrative he promoted.

His American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic sold 11,800 copies only in its first week after the release and it quickly became included in the New York Times Best Sellers List. The book comes in paperback, hardcover, audiobook, and kindle versions.

A New Chapter of Transparency?

The release of the report written by AG Letitia James came as a long-awaited vindication for many. The families of the nursing home residents who died due to the virus were relieved that their loss counted.

While the document brings to the forefront relevant issues of how the pandemic was handled by nursing homes and the government, it remains to be seen what changes will be implemented in the long-run. The pandemic is not over yet. What is more, the start of vaccination procedures brings its own set of measures and practices that have to be implemented to keep the process safe and efficient.

Show More