The state of New York may have undercounted their nursing home deaths due to COVID-19 by up to 50%, according to a new report released by the state’s attorney general. The report brings New York’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic into further question, after Democrat New York Governor Andrew Cuomo received widespread criticism for ordering coronavirus positive patients back into nursing homes at the beginning of the pandemic.

According to the official death count by the New York State Department of Health (DOH), 6,645 nursing home residents died because of COVID-19 as of November 16, 2020.

New York Attorney General Letitia James’ release of the report on Thursday makes this official count suspect.

Preliminary data for 62 facilities “suggests that COVID-19 resident deaths associated with nursing homes in New York state appear to be undercounted by DOH by approximately 50 percent,” the report states.

Here are two other “preliminary findings” from the report:

  • “Insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for nursing home staff put residents at increased risk of harm during the COVID-19 pandemic in some facilities.”
  • “Government guidance requiring the admission of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities and may have obscured the data available to assess that risk.”

The last finding places some of the blame for the large number of nursing home deaths at the feet of Gov. Cuomo.

On March 25, 2020, Gov. Cuomo and New York Commissioner of Health Howard Zucker issued a directive to nursing homes: “No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the nursing home solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19. Nursing homes are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident… to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.”

According to the attorney general’s report, “The guidance was rescinded on May 10… From March 25 to May 8, 6,326 hospital patients were admitted to 310 nursing homes.”

“Using the DOH publicized data, 4,000 nursing home deaths occurred after the issuance of the March 25 guidance, including some in 323 facilities that apparently had no reported COVID-19 infections before receiving admissions or re-admissions of hospital residents who had been diagnosed with COVID-19,” the report states.

“While additional data and analysis would be required to ascertain the effect of such admissions in individual facilities, these admissions may have contributed to increased risk of nursing home resident infection.”

In other words, according to the attorney general’s report, Gov. Cuomo’s March 25 directive may have led to the deaths of elderly patients in nursing homes.

“As the pandemic and our investigations continue, it is imperative that we understand why the residents of nursing homes in New York unnecessarily suffered at such an alarming rate,” Attorney General James said in a statement.

“While we cannot bring back the individuals we lost to this crisis, this report seeks to offer transparency that the public deserves and to spur increased action to protect our most vulnerable residents. Nursing homes residents and workers deserve to live and work in safe environments, and I will continue to work hard to safeguard this basic right during this precarious time,” she added.

The U.S. Justice Department has also launched an inquiry, which has since been “vastly expanded,” into whether the state undercounted nursing home deaths.

A recent Siena poll found that Gov. Cuomo has a 57-39 approval rating among New Yorkers. It’s too early to tell whether the attorney general’s report will change those numbers.

Gov. Cuomo received an Emmy for his “masterful” COVID-19 briefings, and wrote a book titled American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.

One of the top qualities of a “Level 5 Leader,” a concept developed by researcher Jim Collins, is that leaders “look in the mirror to assign responsibility, never citing bad luck or external factors when things go poorly.”

When Gov. Cuomo was asked in May whether he bore any responsibility for the March 25 directive, he reassigned the blame, saying, “They should ask President Trump.”

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