DOJ seeks more New York nursing home data after finding COVID-19 death undercount

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is requesting more data on COVID-19 deaths linked to New York nursing homes after receiving figures that indicate a significant under-count of deaths at publicly run nursing homes in the state.

The Justice Department’s civil division on Tuesday night requested from state officials data on deaths linked to New York’s more than 1,000 private nursing homes.

New York records provided in response to an August Justice Department inquiry indicated that a quarter of deaths in the state’s roughly two dozen public nursing homes weren’t disclosed to federal health officials, administration sources said.

New York indicated that about 400 residents of the state’s public facilities died from COVID-19, according to federal sources, who said that state facilities had only disclosed about 300 deaths to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In total, the New York Health Department publicly reports about 6,720 deaths from the serious respiratory bug in nursing homes and adult-care facilities. But the true scope of New York’s tragic toll in nursing homes is expected to be much higher.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has angrily denied accusations that a March 25 state rule barring nursing homes from turning away coronavirus-positive patients contributed significantly to New York’s 33,000 COVID-19 deaths.

Cuomo’s detractors see blood on his hands as he embarks on a self-congratulatory book tour crediting himself with a successful pandemic response and faulting President Trump.

“What we’re trying to determine is why these people died so it doesn’t happen again,” an administration official said. “We’re going where the greatest carnage occurred.”

Cuomo’s office denounced the initial August request for data as “nothing more than a transparent politicization of the Department of Justice.” A spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest federal action.

The Justice Department’s civil rights division in August sought the initial data from New York on publicly run nursing homes under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.

The division launched an investigation in April of a publicly run nursing home in Republican-governed Massachusetts and on Tuesday night informed New Jersey it was opening an investigation of two of its three publicly run nursing homes, after New Jersey officials declined to reply to an August request for data.

The New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park and the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home at Paramus are being investigated under the civil rights law.

The Justice Department’s civil division is seeking the New York data on private homes under its authority to police against “grossly substandard care” for Medicare and Medicaid recipients, Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark wrote in a letter to the New York State Department of Health.

There are two possible reasons for the New York death undercount at public homes, officials said.

One explanation is that some residents died in hospitals and weren’t reported in the prior count. Another is that the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services mandated that tallies of deaths be reported to the CDC as of May, but did not require retroactive counting.

An Associated Press analysis in August found 11,000 New York nursing home residents may have died from COVID-19.

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