ALBANY, N.Y. (WWNY) - Gov. Andrew Cuomo is defending the way the state’s health department counted COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes, calling criticism following an attorney general report “a political attack.”
At a news conference Friday, Cuomo said that a report by Attorney General Letitia James released Thursday actually verifies what the health department has been saying all along.
The AG’s report said the state may have undercounted nursing home deaths by as much as 50 percent because the state only counted deaths that happened in nursing homes, not nursing home patients who died in hospitals.
“We’ve always been transparent on the number of nursing home deaths that were reported in the facility. We’ve always said those were in-facility deaths,” health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, “And we’ve also said that there have been hospital deaths.”
He said the state has been working on getting an accurate number of in-hospital deaths of nursing home patients since August, something he expected to finish by his department’s budget hearing next month
“But when I saw the attorney general’s report, I decided that we needed to finish that up quickly and get these numbers out in real time.”
The key point, he said, is that the total number of deaths hasn’t changed, “and to misrepresent that number, actually, is factually inaccurate.”
“This report confirms everything the commissioner said for the past year,” Cuomo said, when it noted that the state followed federal guidance, no nursing home was forced to take any patient, and nursing homes that took in anyone they couldn’t care for violated the law.
Frequently criticized is a state mandate that required nursing homes to accept medically stable COVID-19 patients that the AG’s report said “may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities.”
“It’s not about pointing fingers or blame, it’s that this became a political football,” the governor said.
The governor and the Department of Health did, in fact, take considerable heat from Republicans after the report was released.
And, in the end, the governor said, it doesn’t really matter where the deaths were counted.
“Whether a person died in a hospital or died in a nursing home, it’s --people died, people died,” he said, adding that the same population is still dying and at the same rates as before.
He also noted that the state’s percentage of COVID-19 nursing home deaths is below the national average.