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National News

Document shows Cuomo administration tracked nursing home deaths despite claim totals couldn’t be 'verified'

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Document shows Cuomo administration tracked nursing home deaths despite claim totals couldn’t be 'verified'

2021-04-08 07:54:13

The administration has been recording the location of nursing home deaths attributed to COVID-19 since at least April 2020, according to a Department of Health document.

"A new field has been added under the CURRENT Resident Death Details section of the form," said a portion of the form, which was reportedly updated on April 19 of last year. "The new field will collect the resident's Place of Death and is required for all resident deaths you are reporting in that section."

Despite the reported tracking of nursing home deaths, administration officials claimed the death tolls could not be verified.

"The out-of-facility data was omitted after DOH could not confirm it had been adequately verified — this did not change the conclusion of the report, which was and is that the March 25 order was 'not a driver of nursing home infections or fatalities,'" Beth Garvey, a special counsel and adviser to the governor, said on March 4 of this year.

Gary Holmes, a spokesman for the New York Department of Health, said the reports the department received had certain details omitted to protect patient confidentiality.

“The Department of Health has received HERDS information daily from more than 1,000 long term care facilities and more than 200 hospitals since the start of this pandemic. In April 2020 we asked for additional information to provide a more specific clinical picture, and as part of that correspondence we asked all facilities to provide that same level of information retrospectively to March 1. All HERDS data sets, specific to fatalities, included only initials and age to protect patient privacy," he said in an email to the Washington Examiner. "Additionally, the Department receives SPARCS data from hospitals, which often comes on a lag. While that information does include name and date of birth, it does not specify the name of a long term care facility from which a patient was transferred. The Department spent months reconciling the information received in order to understand and report accurate fatality data from multiple sources."

Cuomo signed a controversial executive order on March 25, 2020, shielding nursing homes from liability when admitting COVID-19-positive patients. A report conducted by the Empire Center for Public Policy, a government watchdog group, found Cuomo's directive was linked to over 1,000 additional resident deaths.

"Statewide, the findings imply that COVID-positive new admissions between late March and early May, which numbered 6,327, were associated with several hundred and possibly more than 1,000 additional resident deaths," the report read. Cuomo reversed the nursing home policy on May 10, 2020.

Administration officials conceded they underreported death counts due to political pressure.

"Basically, we froze," Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, told state lawmakers in February, explaining the administration undercounted deaths out of fear of political retribution by former President Donald Trump.

The governor signed S5177, a bill repealing existing legislation shielding New York nursing homes from COVID-19 liability claim, into law on Wednesday. There have been 3,695 deaths attributed to COVID-19 among New York nursing home residents, according to data released by the state's health department on Monday.

Cuomo's handling of nursing homes and nursing home death data during the coronavirus pandemic came under federal investigation, multiple news outlets reported in February.

The governor is also contending with a sexual harassment scandal after several women came forward to accuse the governor of impropriety. While Cuomo maintains he has never touched anyone inappropriately, he did apologize for making anyone feel uncomfortable.

The mounting accusations have resulted in a pair of inquiries: Attorney General Letitia James is investigating the women's claims at the state level, and New York state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie authorized an "impeachment investigation" in the Legislature.

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