AG Issues Major Report on DOH Nursing Home Fatality Data for COVID-19

Situation Report | February 1, 2021

New York State Attorney General Letitia James on January 28 issued a high-profile report examining nursing home care and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report — which dominated Capitol news coverage late last week — says that the state Department of Health (DOH) data on nursing home residents who died of COVID-19 “may have been undercounted by as much as 50 percent,” according to a press release from the Attorney General’s office.

The report also detailed investigations of facilities for infection-control protocols and outlined a series of findings on: the relationship between staffing levels and fatality rates; staff training; and isolation, screening, testing, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) measures.

The Attorney General’s office said its investigation of more than 20 facilities is ongoing, but it also raised questions as to the “extent facilities or individuals can be held accountable,” due to immunity protections passed by the Legislature and signed into law last year.

Since the late spring — and during legislative hearings over the summer — DOH was questioned by the media and elected officials on its reporting of nursing home fatalities attributable to COVID-19. Relatedly, health officials were also questioned about the relationship between nursing-home infection rates and a DOH guidance on hospital discharge to nursing homes.

DOH and Cuomo administration officials have repeatedly stressed that the state followed all federal guidelines and that, according to its own data analysis, COVID-19 was already present in nursing homes prior to any guidance on hospital transfers. “Admissions to nursing homes was not the driver” and “data shows staff and visitors inadvertently brought the virus” to nursing homes, according to an August 3 DOH slide presentation for legislators.

HCA will report back on any further developments from this report and its impact on state policy related to the COVID-19 response, including hospital discharges and data reporting that may have an impact on home and community-based care.