On Wednesday night, the New York State Health Department fulfilled in part the terms of a lawsuit won by the Empire Center, a conservative-leaning think tank, and released more detailed information on COVID-19 related nursing home resident deaths.
State Health Department officials confirm that 15,049 residents died while either in nursing homes, adult care facilities, and assisted living facilities across the state or outside of them during the pandemic.
This includes COVID-19 and presumed COVID-19 deaths, as well as resident deaths that occurred outside these facilities, including in hospitals.
Health Department officials have been stonewalling for months on releasing the complete number of nursing home resident deaths during the pandemic. Just a few weeks ago, the state had only publicly recorded 9,154 long-term care resident deaths.
This data has shaped policy going back to the March 25 executive memo that allowed COVID-19 positive residents to be admitted back into long-term care facilities.
Six months ago, Bill Hammond, a health policy researcher at the Empire Center, filed a Freedom of Information Law request for a day-by-day and facility-by-facility breakdown of each COVID-19-related death at nursing homes, adult care facilities, and assisted living facilities.
"We want it for each facility on each day so we can track how the pandemic unfolded over time and over different parts of the state," Hammond explained.
New York State Supreme Court Judge Justice Kimberly O’Connor ruled in the Empire Center’s favor and gave Health Department officials until end of the day Wednesday, February 10, to release this information.
Hammond says while most of this information was released, it still did not fully account for deaths of around 600 residents that occurred outside long-term care facilities. The Health Department provided a summary, but not the dates of these resident deaths.
“Withholding this data appears to be a violation of Justice Kimberly O’Connor’s court order, and we will attempt to address this first with DOH,” Hammond wrote.
Senator Jim Tedisco, who has been among a bipartisan group of lawmakers pushing for the release of these numbers, said:
“The deaths of about 15,000 New Yorkers from the coronavirus in state-regulated nursing homes has been one of the worst, most horrific events in our state’s history. Families of those who lost loved ones to the virus deserve closure and we need to know what went wrong that enabled this terrible tragedy to occur.”
Tedisco continued, “It’s totally unacceptable that the Cuomo Administration is not adhering to Justice O’Connor’s court order and fully disclosing all the information we have requested. They must release this information immediately.”
As for counting deaths during the pandemic, the Department of Health defended its methodology in a letter to New York State Lawmakers:
"Some nursing homes have reported certain fatalities for residents who died outside their facility, after those individuals were no longer under their care, where the facility suspected - but lacked confirmation - that the cause of death was COVID related," the documented stated.
"During data verification attempts by DOH, nursing homes have indicated that these reports are unreliable because they speculated from incomplete medical information, and could not confirm that information with the facility at which the patient died."