Pols seek accounting of COVID-19 nursing home deaths under Cuomo

The state Health Department would finally have to reveal how many nursing home residents died…

Pols seek accounting of COVID-19 nursing home deaths under Cuomo

The state Health Department would finally have to reveal how many nursing home residents died of COVID-19 after being sent to hospitals, under a pair of bills introduced in the state Senate on Thursday.

Separate pieces of legislation from both sides of the aisle aim to close a loophole through which only fatalities that actually take place in nursing homes are listed on the DOH website.

A proposal sponsored by Committee on Health Chairman Gustavo Rivera (D-The Bronx) would force the DOH to post comprehensive, daily updates from its online Health Emergency Response Data System.

The electronic database, known as HERDS, compiles real-time information from local health departments, hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other sources to track disease outbreaks.

“During the legislatures’ August 2020, joint public hearings on COVID-19 in residential health care facilities it became clear that several key pieces of information should be made more public and transparent,” Rivera said in a memo accompanying his bill.

“Most notably, New York’s accounting of nursing home and adult care facility resident deaths do not include those residents who had been transferred to a hospital and then passed away.”

He added: “While the official tally at the time of the hearings was approximately 6,500 deaths of residents in facilities, many speculated the number was significantly higher and that the undercounting gives an inaccurate and rosier picture of what actually happened in New York.”

As many as 11,000 nursing home residents may have died from the coronavirus in both hospitals and nursing homes, according to an August estimate by The Associated Press, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo has defended the DOH’s reporting method, saying, “If you die in the nursing home, it’s a nursing home death. If you die in the hospital, it’s called a hospital death.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Gov. Andrew CuomoSteven Hirsch

The Committee on Health’s ranking member, state Sen. Sue Serino (R-Hyde Park), introduced a similar bill that she said “would expressly require the reporting of the total number of individuals transferred from a nursing home to a hospital due to COVID-19 and the total number of COVID-19 patients discharged from a hospital to a nursing home,” including back to March 1.

The latter figures would help shine a light on the impact of a controversial, March 25 directive from the Health Department that required nursing homes to admit “medically stable” coronavirus patients discharged from hospitals.

Critics have blamed the since-rescinded policy for fueling fatalities in nursing homes — an accusation that Cuomo has strenuously denied.

It’s now under review by the US Department of Justice.

Last week, an Albany-based think tank sued the DOH to obtain daily tallies of the number of nursing home residents who’ve died of COVID-19 in hospitals after being sent for treatment.

The Empire Center for Public Policy filed a request for the data Aug. 3 but was told it wouldn’t be available until Nov. 5 because “a diligent search for responsive documents is still being conducted,” according to the suit filed in Albany state Supreme Court.

The Empire Center accused the DOH of “hiding” the numbers so Cuomo and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker can “claim that New York’s nursing home response was better than most other states.”

in a written statement, DOH spokesman Gary Holmes said, “While the Department does not comment on pending legislation, we do agree with displaying accurate, reliable data and using it to make smart public health decisions. We’ve done that from the beginning. As we said at the hearing, and many times since, additional data will be released once a careful review is complete.”