The state Attorney General’s Office sealed the deal when it reported that the state Health Department undercounted New York’s COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50% amid widespread allegations of patient neglect as adult-care facilities failed to comply with infection control policies.
Thousands of New Yorkers died from COVID-19 in hospitals after being transferred from their nursing homes, which is not reflected in the Health Department’s published total nursing home death count. Months of controversy swirled over this very issue last summer, yet state officials did nothing to change or correct the way nursing home residents were counted.
This happened even though the office received more than 770 complaints on a hotline for family members having trouble communicating with nursing home staff while in-person visits were prohibited between April 23 and Aug. 3. An additional 179 complaints were filed through Nov. 16 during the fall surge before the holiday season.
While most nursing homes were communicating with family members through texting, online messages or direct phone calls with periodic updates, the problem of undercounting went on.
As alleged cases of neglect surfaced about insufficient personal protective equipment such as gloves, face shields, masks and gowns, and insufficient COVID-19 testing for residents and staff, the state had facts about residents’ conditions at their fingertips and yet failed to adjust its counting method. Meanwhile, many nursing homes failed to use their communication technology to its full capacity and ignored anxious family members.
The COVID-19 pandemic shows no sign of lessening; in fact, its scourge is worse than ever. At the same time, investigations continue to learn how and why state officials overlooked half of all nursing home residents as accusations were made of patient neglect and flouting infection control protocols.
What is clear is that nursing home residents in New York needlessly suffered at an alarming rate. The number of people lost to this crisis is staggering. The attorney general’s report offers the transparency the public deserves, but it falls short of offering comfort to loved ones whose family members could have been saved, or at least recognized.
We hope the attorney general’s report spurs increased action to protect our most vulnerable residents. Nursing homes residents and workers deserve to live and work in safe environments. We also hope the attorney general will do whatever is necessary to hold state officials publicly accountable for allowing this miscarriage of protocol.