True number of New York nursing home deaths ‘hidden by Cuomo aides’

Officials close to governor allegedly feared an inquiry from Trump administration

Gino Spocchia
Friday 05 March 2021 11:40
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The true number of nursing home deaths from Covid-19 in New York were ‘hidden’ by aides of governor Andrew Cuomo, according to reports.

Top aides to Mr Cuomo, who previously described the incident as a “delay” in the reporting of deaths, were in fact directed to alter a report into the state’s fatalities in July last year, according to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times on Thursday,.

It follows revelations in February surrounding the under-reporting of Covid-19 deaths in care home facilities, where the toll stands at over 15,000 statewide. The same figure stood at 8,500 before the revelations recently came to light.

When Mr Cuomo and senior aides noticed that over 9,000 deaths were connected to care homes by June last year, top aides reportedly directed the state’s health department to alter the criteria of the July report.

The deaths were not reported at the time, although Mr Cuomo and top aides admitted the true number of care home fatalities could be higher than 6,432 they said died in nursing homes.

Read more: ‘No one ever tells him he’s wrong’: Cuomo staffers come forward with details of ‘toxic’ atmosphere around governor

According to the reports on Thursday, top aides – including the deputy secretary to the governor – Melissa DeRossa, were concerned that the Trump administration would conduct a politically motivated inquiry into the high number of care home deaths.

They then directed the state’s health department to change the criteria for reporting Covid-19 deaths for care home residents, to not include deaths inside hospitals.

As revealed by state attorney Letitia James last month, “nursing home resident deaths appear to be under-counted by [the state department of health] by approximately 50 per cent”.

The office of Mr Cuomo responded by immediately issuing a revision of the totals, which went from 8,500 in late January to more than 15,000 by mid-February – almost doubling the fatalities for care home facilities.

The unreported deaths are thought to have taken place in the first three months of the pandemic, following a directive issued by Mr Cuomo on 25 March.

It forced New York’s nursing homes to receive patients who were discharged from hospitals – potentially carrying and spreading Covid into facilities.

Gary Holmes, a spokesperson for the state’s health department, said on Thursday that the changes to the July report were made as a matter of accuracy, rather than the reputation of Mr Cuomo.

"While early versions of the report included out of facility deaths, the Covid task force was not satisfied that the data had been verified against hospital data and so the final report used only data for in facility deaths, which was disclosed in the report," Mr Holmes said.

The revelations come as Mr Cuomo, formerly hailed a hero for the state’s Covid-19 response, faces an investigation over sexual harassment claims from three women.

He denies the allegations, but apologised for making women feel “uncomfortable” on Wednesday. “It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologise for it. I feel awful about it, and frankly, I am embarrassed by it,” said Mr Cuomo.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press

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