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State comptroller confirms under-reporting of pandemic nursing home deaths

A nursing home resident getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
Gareth Rhodes
NYS Department of Financial Services
A nursing home resident getting vaccinated against COVID-19 at the height of the pandemic.

The New York State Comptroller's Office is out with its own report on how well the Cuomo Administration handled the pandemic in long-term care facilities. It confirms the state Attorney General's findings in January 2021 that deaths were under-reported by as much as 50%.

"Providing access to government data engenders transparency and promotes public trust," the audit says. "While the Department’s duty is to act solely to promote public health, we determined that, instead of providing accurate and reliable information during a public health emergency, the Department conformed its presentation to the Executive’s narrative, often presenting data in a manner that misled the public."

The comptroller defines "the Executive" as former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, members of his staff within the Executive Chamber and members of the New York State Interagency Task Force, including former Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.

The comptroller's audit says the state Health Department used three systems for collecting and reporting infection control data. But it concludes that the administration "was not transparent in its reporting of COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes...whether due to the poor-quality data it was collecting initially or, later, a deliberate decision, for certain periods during the pandemic."

All told, the comptroller says the administration failed to account for approximately 4,100 lives lost due to COVID-19 between April 2020 and February 2021.

"Persistent underinvestment in public health over the last decade may have limited the Department’s ability to prepare and respond in the most effective way. Department staff, by all accounts, worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic," the audit continues. "However, better data and information systems and an established system of proactive infection control reviews for facilities prior to the pandemic would have provided them with more accurate and complete information early on to assist them in their work and would have helped facilities be better prepared."