New York’s attorney general recently released a report that found numerous New York nursing homes did not do enough to protect residents from the coronavirus. The report also details how New York Governor Andrew Cuomo may have underreported vital nursing home data. Learn more about this developing story.
N.Y. Attorney General Reports on COVID-19 Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect
In late January 2021, New York State Attorney General Letitia James unveiled a report titled “Nursing Home Response to COVID-19 Pandemic”. It was the result of a months-long study James and her team conducted to address allegations of nursing home neglect related to COVID-19 in the state.
The report revealed that hundreds of nursing homes throughout New York did not do enough to keep residents safe from the coronavirus in the early months of the pandemic. Partly due to this negligence, thousands of residents died.
It also showed that the number of nursing home deaths originally recorded by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration were not accurate. In fact, the Attorney General’s report claims the Cuomo nursing homes death figures were undercounted by up to 50%.
In light of these revelations, New Yorkers are furious at both Cuomo and negligent nursing homes.
How Did New York Nursing Homes Fail To Protect Residents?
Nursing homes throughout the state of New York failed to act properly in several key areas throughout the pandemic, according to the attorney general’s report.
Lack of Personal Protective Equipment
Throughout the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have highlighted just how important masks and other forms of personal protective equipment (PPE) are.
Unfortunately, some nursing homes took steps that may have actually made the spread of COVID-19 worse due to PPE shortages.
“OAG [the Office of the Attorney General] received multiple reports that during the first wave of the pandemic, several nursing homes across the state had woefully inadequate PPE to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. OAG received allegations that due to PPE shortages, facilities violated basic infection control practices by requiring staff to re-use PPE or to clean used PPE.”
— New York Office of the Attorney General 2021 nursing home report
Lack of Proper Infection Controls
The report also noted that some nursing homes failed to follow basic steps to control the spread of coronavirus — for example, continuing communal dining practices and not isolating residents who tested positive.
This is very concerning because:
- Nursing homes are required to have protocols in place to reduce the risk of infection
- The state’s Department of Health rolled out mandatory procedures all nursing homes needed to follow at the start of the lockdown
Aside from the coronavirus, nursing home infections can devastate populations. Outbreaks of common illnesses like the flu can be deadly for older residents. The fact that some nursing homes were unable to administer vital infection safety measures is unacceptable. Simple steps may have saved more lives.
Lack of Testing
The Attorney General’s report suggested that a failure to properly test both residents and staff members contributed to increased rates of COVID-19.
According to the report:
- Nursing home residents who did not show symptoms or could not communicate properly may have not been tested
- Some nursing home employees continue to work even if they had been exposed but were asymptomatic (this went against CDC guidelines)
“Pre-existing insufficient staffing levels in many nursing homes put residents at increased risk of harm during the COVID-19 pandemic. As nursing home resident and staff COVID-19 infections rose during the initial wave of the pandemic, staffing absences increased at many nursing homes.”
— New York Office of the Attorney General 2021 nursing home report
Less staff meant that the needs of nursing home residents were not being met at a time when it may have made the difference between life and death.
Readmitting Patients Who Tested Positive for Coronavirus
The Attorney General’s report also noted that New York nursing homes were still required to admit patients even if they had been diagnosed with COVID-19 between March and May 2020.
This Cuomo nursing homes policy was enacted in line with federal guidelines to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. However, the report concluded 4,000 nursing home residents died as a result.
A family blamed this policy for the death of a Navy veteran who contracted COVID-19 in the spring of 2020 while staying at a New York nursing home. Though his family removed him from the nursing home, he soon passed away due to COVID-19 complications.
“He was in there for 20 days. My mother was assured that he would be safe from COVID.”
— Grace Colucci, daughter of COVID-19 victim
Cuomo Nursing Homes Controversy Adds To Complications
In addition to the failure of many nursing homes to protect residents, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has come under fire for possibly skewing data about the pandemic in 2020.
The Cuomo nursing homes data was inaccurate in two crucial areas.
Nursing Home Death Counts
Originally, the Cuomo Administration reported that roughly 9,100 New Yorkers died in nursing homes due to COVID-19. The Attorney General’s report found that over 15,000 died — a significantly higher amount than previously stated.
This news does not add to New York’s overall death count: nursing home residents who passed away at a hospital were simply counted among hospital deaths instead. However, it suggests that Cuomo miscounted the deaths of nursing home residents to make his administration look better.
Even worse, Cuomo’s team may have hid the full data from state lawmakers. The New York State Assembly asked for an update on the data in August of 2020 but failed to get it. An aide to Cuomo blamed a federal probe and a second wave of COVID-19 infections in New York for the delay. This reasoning was met with criticism from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
Nursing Home Admission Rates
Issues with the Cuomo nursing homes data are not limited to the death count. In February 2021, the Associated Press (AP) revealed that Cuomo’s administration miscounted the number of people readmitted to nursing homes after battling the coronavirus.
“The new number of 9,056 recovering patients sent to hundreds of nursing homes is more than 40% higher than what the state health department previously released.”
– Associated Press
The readmissions were part of the overall directive that required nursing homes to admit patients even if they had COVID-19 in the first months of the pandemic.
COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Brings Hope to Nursing Homes
Though the controversies surrounding Cuomo’s actions have made things seem grim, there has been some positive COVID-19 news for New York nursing homes.
New York nursing home residents began to receive their vaccines in December 2020. By April 2021, 80% of the state’s nursing home residents had been vaccinated.
The same vaccination rates have not been reached among nursing home staff members, with 60% having been vaccinated across the state as of April 2021. However, the state is looking for ways to increase this percentage.
The New York Post recently reported that the state required nursing homes to offer vaccines to all employees and residents starting on April 29th, 2021. Those admitted or hired after this date can get their shot in two weeks or less.