Washington

Andrew Cuomo’s nursing home directive may have led to 1,000 more coronavirus deaths: Study


A newly released study found that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s nursing home directive may have resulted in as many as 1,000 additional deaths from the novel coronavirus, making “a bad situation worse.”

The research by the Empire Center for Public Policy released Thursday showed that requiring nursing homes to admit stable COVID-19 patients under the March 25 state Health Department was “associated with several hundred, and possibly more than 1,000 additional resident deaths.”

“The coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc in nursing homes across the country and around the world, including in jurisdictions that did not adopt policies similar to those in the Cuomo administration’s March 25 guidance memo,” said center senior fellow Bill Hammond in a statement.

“However, this analysis indicates that the guidance may have made a bad situation worse—and points to the need for further research to determine the best policy before the state faces another pandemic,” he said.

The free-market think-tank’s findings come with Mr. Cuomo under fire from both Democrats and Republicans over nursing home deaths, fueled by last week’s admission by a top aide that his administration “froze” over political concerns when asked in August by the Justice Department and state legislature to turn over COVID-19 death figures.

Mr. Cuomo continued to insist Friday that the state has always provided accurate information, and blamed the criticism on partisan Republicans, despite rising calls for answers from progressive Democrats in the Assembly and Senate.

“It is a lie to say any numbers were inaccurate. That is a lie. Total deaths were always reported to nursing homes and hospitals,” Mr. Cuomo said at Friday’s press conference.

A Jan. 28 report by Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, found that the state undercounted nursing home deaths by as much as 50% by not including those who died in hospitals after being infected in senior facilities.

The governor effectively rescinded the March 25 order on May 10, but during that time, the study found that “each new admission of a COVID-positive patient correlated with .09 additional deaths, with a margin of error of plus or minus 0.05.”

“The data indicate that the March 25 memo was not the sole or primary cause of the heavy death toll in nursing homes, which stood at approximately 13,200 as of early this month,” said the Empire Center report.

“At the same time,” the study continued, “the findings contradict a central conclusion of the Health Department’s July 6 report on coronavirus in nursing homes, which said, among other things: ‘Admission policies were not a significant factor in nursing home fatalities’ and ‘The data do not show a consistent relationship between admissions and increased mortality.’”

More than 9,000 recovering COVID-19 patients were admitted to New York nursing homes during the pandemic’s early days, according to an Associated Press analysis.

Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said the Empire Center’s report was “consistent with the Department of Health’s analysis that found the March 25 guidance was not a driver of COVID infections and fatalities and COVID was introduced to nursing homes primarily through staff and visitors,” according to a statement in the New York Post.

Mr. Hammond responded that the state Health Department “continues to misrepresent the truth.”

“The department’s comments show that it either doesn’t understand statistics, or is willfully ignoring our findings,” he said in a Friday statement. “Our analysis does, in fact, show a consistent relationship between transfers from hospitals to nursing homes and COVID fatalities.”

The report also found that the impact was “more pronounced upstate,” where there were fewer cases and as a result, “even a single exposure would have had a larger impact on the level of risk.”

Outside of New York City and its suburbs, “each positive admission was associated with 0.62 additional deaths,” and that “any number of positive admissions was associated with 9.33 additional deaths per facility.”

The report, “COVID-positive Admissions Were Correlated with Higher Death Rates in New York Nursing Homes,” used Health Department data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests by the Empire Center and The Associated Press.

The center sued the state in September to force compliance with its open-records request for a “full count of coronavirus deaths among nursing home residents.”

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