NEW YORK — Top aides to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo withheld data pertaining to nursing home deaths over a months-long process to soften the numbers, according to reports from the Wall Street Journal and New York Times Thursday night.
The reports allege advisers in Albany worked to rewrite a July report compiled by state health officials, and in doing so, worked to hide how many nursing home residents died in the pandemic.
New York Attorney General Letitia James alleged in January that the Cuomo administration undercounted nursing home deaths.
James and her office, for months, examined discrepancies between the number of deaths being reported by the state’s Department of Health, and the number of deaths reported by the homes themselves.
The findings suggested that the state undercounted nursing home deaths by about 50%, though state officials said it was simply a case of allocation: nursing home residents who died in hospitals were considered hospital deaths, not nursing home deaths.
Thursday’s reports suggest that was a deliberate decision made by Cuomo staffers and against the wishes of health professionals.
The Times alleged that as the nursing home report was being written, the Health Department’s data put the death toll roughly 50% higher than the figure then being cited publicly by the Cuomo administration.
Officials in Albany responded to the stories late Thursday night, with a health department spokesperson defending the July report in question.
“This report…was a collaborative process between DOH and the COVID task force,” said Gary Holmes. “The report’s purpose was to ensure the public had a clear non-political evaluation for how COVID entered nursing homes at the height of the pandemic. All data sets reviewed came to a common conclusion — that spread from staff was likely the primary driver that introduced COVID into these nursing homes. While early versions of the report included out of facility deaths, the COVID task force was not satisfied that the data had been verified against hospital data and so the final report used only data for in facility deaths, which was disclosed in the report. While the out of facility deaths were held aside for verification, the conclusions were supported by both data sets.
Holmes pushed back on reported tension between health professionals and political staffers.
“DOH was comfortable with the final report and believes fully in its conclusion that the primary driver that introduced COVID into the nursing homes was spread brought in by staff…The decision was made to initially release the report without the out of facility data and to later update the report to include the out of facility deaths. This was done in February and as Dr. Zucker had testified to the legislature, the conclusions remained the same as in July.”
The Thursday report is the latest in a string of bad press — and serious allegations — against Cuomo and his administration. Cuomo has been accused of sexual harassment of former staffers, inappropriately touching a woman he met at a wedding, and creating a workplace that supported bullying and abuse; those each are in addition to the nursing home scandal, which also includes criticism surrounding controversial liability shields for long-term care facilities and policies regarding patients with COVID-19.