ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) — During his COVID-19 briefing on Friday, Gov. Cuomo received a question from News 4’s Chris Horvatits.
He asked, “Why should it take a report from the Attorney General for the state to release the number of nursing home residents who died in a hospital, which is a number that we’ve been looking for for quite a while?”
The question was in reference to a report released this week by the New York Attorney General’s Office, which said New York State undercounted the number of nursing home deaths attributed to COVID-19 by 50 percent.
On Thursday, New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker had responded to the report, saying ““DOH has consistently made clear that our numbers are reported based on the place of death. DOH does not disagree that the number of people transferred from a nursing home to a hospital is an important data point, and is in the midst of auditing this data from nursing homes.”
In response to Horvatits’ query, the Governor asked Zucker to answer.
“When they said there was undercounting, that’s just factually inaccurate,” Zucker said. “Reporting the number of deaths is always the hardest number to report out there, and we wanted to be sure that those numbers were accurate.”
Cuomo followed Zucker, saying “The report affirmed everything the Commissioner said. Where this starts is, frankly, a political attack from the prior federal administration HHS.”
Hours after the attorney general’s report was released Thursday, Zucker acknowledged for the first time that as of January 19th, 3,829 nursing home residents died from the coronavirus after being transferred to a hospital. That brings the total number of nursing home residents either presumed or confirmed to have died from COVID-19 to 12,743.
Prior to Thursday, the state only reported the number of nursing home residents who died in one of those facilities. That number was 8,711 as of Tuesday.
The report also shed light on what was happening in some of Western New York’s nursing homes. At an unnamed facility with a 1-star overall rating, one employee “alleged that the staffing levels at the facility were so low that CNAs, rather than nurses licensed to do so, were dispensing medications to residents,” it said in the report.
At an unnamed Western New York facility with a 2-star rating, the report says investigators received an allegation, “that an LPN at the facility was allegedly forced to resign after she questioned inadequate PPE policies and refused to work under conditions where staff and residents would not be safe.”
At another unnamed Western New York 1-star overall facility, a registered nurse told AG investigators that prior to a Department of Health inspection, “a nurse supervisor had set up bins in front of the units with gowns and N95 masks to make it appear that the facility had an adequate supply of appropriate PPE for staff,” the report says. It further said that facility received no negative findings that day, however was later cited when health officials returned for a follow-up inspection.
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2017. See more of his work here.