The death count among New York nursing homes could be severely undercounted, thanks to a policy that dictates only residents who die on nursing home property be counted as coronavirus deaths, according to a report by the Associated Press. Those who are transported to hospitals and died there are not counted as nursing home deaths.
New York nursing home death toll is a little more than 6,600, but the current counting method could leave thousands of nursing home deaths unreported.
"That's a problem, bro," state Sen. Gustavo Rivera told New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker during a hearing on nursing homes earlier this month. "It seems, sir, that in this case you are choosing to define it differently so that you can look better."
Federal data say that roughly a fifth of New York care homes reported resident deaths between early June and mid-July. The deaths totaled 323 — 65% higher than the state's count of 195 during the same time period.
Federal regulators since May have required nursing homes to submit data on coronavirus deaths, regardless of whether the patient died in the facility or at a hospital.
When extrapolated to the start of the pandemic, the data point to thousands more nursing home death than New York has reported, according to the AP.
State health department data also show 21,000 nursing home beds lying empty this year — 13,000 more than expected and almost double the official state nursing home death count. Although some of the empty beds can be attributed to people pulling their loved ones out of nursing homes as the pandemic worsened, as well as fewer new admissions, the remaining empty beds suggest that their previous residents died.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly touted the state's nursing home death tally, saying that the percentage of nursing home deaths of its overall COVID-19 death toll is far less than other state's. He has compared New York's 20% to Pennsylvania's 68%, Massachusetts' 64%, and New Jersey's 44%.
Boston University geriatrics expert Thomas Perls said it does not make sense that New York's percentage of nursing home deaths would be that low.
"Whatever the cause, there is no way New York could be truly at 20%," Perls said.
? Cuomo said on Monday that he would not support an independent investigation into coronavirus deaths in New York nursing homes.