New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo brushed off concerns that his administration was undercounting nursing home deaths due to COVID-19 by not counting nursing home residents who died in hospitals.
Unlike the federal government and other states, New York is the only state to explicitly say it only counts residents who died on nursing home property from coronavirus in its count of nursing home deaths. Those who were transported to hospitals and died there are added to a separate count.
“If you die in the nursing home, it’s a nursing home death. If you die in the hospital, it’s called a hospital death,” the Democratic governor told Albany public radio station WAMC on Wednesday. “It doesn’t say where were you before.”
Cuomo explained that if the state were to count a death as a hospital death and a nursing home death it would lead to a “double count.”
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“And if I’m a nursing home operator, I say: ‘Don’t say that person died in my nursing home, because they didn’t,'” the governor continued. “’They died in the hospital. And if the hospital did a better job, they wouldn’t have died. So why do I get the blame for the death when it didn’t happen in my nursing home?’ So it depends on how you want to argue it.”
An Associated Press report last week found New York’s official care home death count of more than 6,620 is not just an undercount but likely an undercount by thousands of deaths. A separate federal count in May that included resident deaths in hospitals was 65 percent higher than the state count that didn’t.
Early on in the pandemic, a law enacted by Cuomo forced nursing homes to take back COVID-positive patients despite the health risk it posed to other residents. As a result, New York hospitals released more than 6,300 coronavirus patients to nursing homes, according to a state Health Department report. The goal was to free up hospital space.
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Cuomo’s administration has taken intense criticism for the policy, and reversed it on May 10. The virus had already spread to more than 20,000 nursing home staffers, many of whom kept going to work and were unaware they had the virus.
Cuomo has claimed “dirty politics” were at hand in the criticisms he faced over the order, and it was a “political conspiracy that the deaths in nursing homes were preventable.”
The governor rejected calls for an independent investigation. He urged the public to look at the state’s nursing home death count. “Look at the basic facts on where New York is versus other states,” Cuomo said.
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“You look at where New York is as a percentage of nursing home deaths,” he said. “It’s all the way at the bottom of the list of states.” He didn’t note that the count doesn’t include those who died in hospitals.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.