The coronavirus death toll in New York’s nursing homes may be significantly higher than previously documented, according to a new analysis.
Some 323 nursing home residents died between early June and mid-July, according to an Associated Press review of federal data — 65 percent higher than the 195 deaths tallied by the state in that same period.
If that rate is indicative of reporting disparities for the duration of the pandemic, it could account for thousands of additional coronavirus-linked deaths on top of the more than 6,400 the state has already confirmed or presumed in nursing homes.
“It seems like all signs point to an undercount,” state Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens) told The Post after reviewing the new data.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have required nursing homes across the nation to report a slew of datasets on a weekly basis since mid-May, including the “total deaths and COVID-19 deaths” among residents and staff.
But the feds’ figures, at least at points, diverge with the state Department of Health’s own accounting.
In at least one case, that includes an individual nursing home reporting a far larger death total to CMS than what’s reflected in the DOH’s own tally.
Manhattan’s Upper East Side Rehabilitation and Nursing Center has reported 95 total COVID-19 resident deaths since the beginning of March, according to the federal data — but the DOH only publicly reported a combined 14 confirmed and probable deaths for the period.
Facility administrator Scott Mair told The Post he’s not sure why there’s a discrepancy between the two figures, but said the CMS questions are “pretty point blank” compared to DOH’s reporting requirements.
With the CMS, facilities have the option to report virus deaths dating back to Jan. 1, or starting on May 24, the first date the feds’ published a report.
The DOH meanwhile asks nursing homes to record all probable and confirmed deaths back to March 1 — but in early May they stopped requiring operators to report deaths that occurred outside facilities, including in hospitals.
Bill Hammond, a health policy expert at the Empire Center for Public Policy, agreed that the federal data is imperfect but argued that the state’s numbers are nevertheless incomplete.
“This highlights the inadequacy of the state’s reporting,” he said. “By leaving out the hospital deaths you’re missing out on a big part of the picture and that is a disservice to the people who lost family members and it gets in the way of figuring out what went wrong so we can prepare for the next pandemic.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker have vigorously defended state reporting methods, and noted that New York’s death rate is very low compared to other states.
With bipartisan support, the state Legislature has held two hearings on the topic, with lawmakers grilling Zucker in the first on his agency’s accounting.
The Cuomo administration has also taken heat for a March 25 directive barring nursing homes from turning away patients on the basis of a positive coronavirus test.
“Bottom line is, I think this underscores the importance of why we need a bipartisan, independent commission to overall figure this out,” said Kim, an idea Cuomo has flatly dismissed.
DOH spokeswoman Jill Montag defended the agency, saying that variations from the federal data have been the norm.
“In our experience CMS has undercounted and overcounted fatalities at various times compared to our data, and nursing homes report data directly to CMS using different criteria,” she said. “Throughout this pandemic, we’ve cited nursing homes for undercounting and will continue to investigate every allegation of such.”
The state has conducted 1,300 inspections of the states’ 613 nursing homes, but has not released the results or names of facilities found in violation of health policies.
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