NY data show nursing home deaths undercounted by thousands

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FILE In this Jan. 11, 2021 file photo, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the State address virtually from The War Room at the state Capitol, in Albany, N.Y. New York may have undercounted COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents by thousands, the state attorney general charged in a report Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 that dealt a blow to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's oft-repeated claims that his state is doing better than others in protecting its most vulnerable. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, Pool, File)

ALBANY, N.Y. – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration confirmed Thursday that thousands more nursing home residents died of COVID-19 than the state's official tallies had previously acknowledged, dealing a potential blow to his image as a pandemic hero.

The surprise development, after months of the state refusing to divulge its true numbers, showed that at least 12,743 long-term care residents died of the virus as of Jan. 19, far greater than the official tally of 8,505 on that day, cementing New York's toll as one of the highest in the nation.

Those numbers are consistent with a report released just hours earlier by state Attorney General Letitia James charging that the nursing home death count could be off by about 50%, largely because New York is one of the only states to count just those who died on facility grounds, not those who later died in the hospital.

“While we cannot bring back the individuals we lost to this crisis, this report seeks to offer transparency that the public deserves,” James said in a statement.

The 76-page report from a fellow Democratic official undercut Cuomo's frequent argument that the criticism of his handling of the virus in nursing homes was part of a political “blame game," and it was a vindication for thousands of families who believed their loved ones were being omitted from counts to advance the governor's image as a pandemic hero.

“It’s important to me that my mom was counted,” said Vivian Zayas, whose 78-year-old mother died in April after contracting COVID-19 at a nursing home in West Islip, New York. “Families like mine knew these numbers were not correct.”

Cuomo’s office referred all questions to the state health department. Several hours after the report, State Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker released a lengthy statement attempting to refute James' report but which essentially confirmed its central finding.

Zucker's figure of 12,743 nursing home resident deaths included for the first time 3,829 confirmed COVID-19 fatalities of those residents who had been transported to hospitals.