An audit has confirmed the New York Health Department under the leadership of former Governor Andrew Cuomo severely underreported the number of Covid-19 nursing home deaths.
Background: New York was among the states hardest hit during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially in the populous New York City.
In an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19 then-governor Andrew Cuomo ordered nursing home residents with the virus to stay in the same facilities as uninfected residents. The move resulted in thousands of elderly deaths.
At the time, Gov. Cuomo was being celebrated for his leadership throughout the pandemic and even wrote a memoir detailing the experience.
However, many began to criticize the governor for underreporting the number of nursing home deaths despite his attempts to manage the speculation.
Cuomo was also hit by a barrage of accusations of sexual misconduct while in office, prompting an investigation from New York Attorney General Letitia James. Ultimately, Cuomo resigned as governor in August but no criminal charges have been filed against the Democrat.
What Happened: Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli indicated that Health Department officials underreported the death toll by up to 50 percent and concluded that the Health Department fell short of its “ethical” and “moral” obligations to report numbers accurately.
“Rather than providing accurate and reliable information during a public health emergency, the department instead conformed its presentation to the executive’s narrative, often presenting data in a manner that misled the public,” the audit report said.
“Our audit findings are extremely troubling,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “The public was misled by those at the highest level of state government through distortion and suppression of the facts when New Yorkers deserved the truth.”
Details: internal data reported 13,147 nursing home resident deaths, but only 9,076 deaths were publicly reported, meaning more than 30 percent of deaths were not made public, the report showed. (per The Hill)
What the Health Department Says: In response to the report Kristen Proud, acting executive deputy commissioner of the state Health Department slammed the previous administration.
“Whatever criticisms may now be directed at the prior administration relating to issues of transparency, or the particular categories of information that were publicly disclosed, those ultimately were matters for the executive chamber of the prior administration and not department personnel.” (per The Hill)
What the NY Attorney general Says: New York AG Letitia James said her office will continue to monitor nursing home conditions.
“This audit affirms many of the findings that we uncovered last year about the state’s response to COVID, most notably that DOH and the former governor undercounted the number of deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50 percent,” James said in a statement.
“My office will continue to monitor nursing home conditions and ensure the safety of our most vulnerable residents,” she added.