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Scathing AG report blasts nursing homes' response to Covid-19 pandemic

State disputes whether deaths were 'undercounted'
Letitia James
Posted at 5:18 PM, Jan 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-28 18:10:05-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — A scathing report released by New York State Attorney General Letitia James found serious fault with the way nursing homes in the state handled the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The AG’s office began receiving reports of patient neglect in nursing homes since the virus broke out. In one three-month period starting in March, nearly 800 New Yorkers flooded the phone lines with complaints.

The biggest takeaway from the AG’s investigation related to the number of nursing home-related Covid-19 deaths, which according to State Department of Health statistics cited by The Buffalo News numbers roughly 8,000 deaths.

But the AG’s investigators did their own counting for a sample of 62 nursing homes and there was a discrepancy between what was reported to the AG and what the health department told the public.

Covid-19 “deaths associated with nursing homes in New York state (sic) appear to be undercounted by DOH by approximately 50 percent,” the report stated.

As for the nursing homes, the AG said infections spread so rapidly because nursing home managers failed to “properly isolate residents who tested positive…adequately screen or test employees [for Covid]...and obtain, fit and train caregivers with PPE.”

Some nursing homes, according to the report, even forced employees who had the virus to work or face retaliation or termination.

As for recommendations, the AG called on the health department to stop the double-counting of the death toll in nursing homes.

But in a statement released by Health Commissioner Howard Zucker late Thursday, Zucker took issue with the AG’s characterization and said there was “no undercount.”

“The word ‘undercount’ implies there are more total fatalities than have been reported; this is factually wrong,” Zucker said in the statement.

Click here to read Zucker’s full statement.

Click here to read the full report.

James also called on the state to throw out the controversial immunity provisions that “provide financial incentives to for-profit nursing home operators to put residents at risk of harm by refraining from investing public funds to obtain sufficient staffing to meet residents’ care needs.”

James said as many as 20 nursing homes remain under investigation by her office. The report did not identify those nursing homes, so it is unclear how many of them are in Western New York.

According to the State Health Department’s own data, 615 people have died from Covid-19 in nursing homes in Erie County -- the second-highest number of nursing home deaths in the state.