Report: Cuomo advisers altered report on COVID-19 nursing home deaths

Top advisers to embattled New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) pushed state health officials to omit data showing that more nursing home residents had died of COVID-19 than the administration had acknowledged from a public report in July, people with knowledge of the report’s production told The Wall Street Journal.

The report, which analyzed the factors that contributed to the spread of the coronavirus in nursing homes, focused only on residents who died inside long-term care facilities, excluding those who had died in hospitals after becoming sick in nursing homes. The report said 6,432 nursing home residents had died, a major undercount of the death toll, the sources told The Journal.

Additionally, one of the sources told the newspaper that the initial version of the report said nearly 10,000 nursing home residents had died in New York by July last year.

Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to this reporter’s request for comment.

The July report resulted from a New York State Department of Health (DOH) study into the impacts of a March 25 directive from the DOH which required nursing homes to not refuse readmitting residents or admitting new residents from hospitals merely because of a COVID-19 diagnosis. Critics and experts have argued that the directive played a huge role in causing the spike in COVID-related deaths in nursing homes during the early stages of the pandemic.

State officials now say, according to the newspaper, that over 15,000 residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities were confirmed or presumed to have died from COVID-19 since March of last year—including both those who died in long-term care facilities and those who later died in hospitals. That number is roughly 50% higher than earlier official death tolls.

The initial version of the report submitted to Cuomo’s team for review included both data on deaths of nursing home residents in hospitals and deaths of residents inside nursing homes, people familiar with the report’s production told the newspaper.

However, members of Cuomo’s COVID-19 task force—including Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa and state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker—requested that the report downplay the role of the March directive. Though DOH officials ultimately agreed to remove the data, they resisted the requests from Cuomo’s team to alter the report, some of the source told The Journal.

The published report, according to the newspaper, concluded that the directive was “not a significant factor in nursing home fatalities.” Rather, the report blamed the virus’s spread on staff who brought the virus with them to work, saying that nursing homes were already rife with the virus by the time of the March 25 directive.

“Covid task force officials did not request that the report conclude the March 25 order played no role,” Beth Garvey, a special counsel and senior adviser to Cuomo, said in a statement. “Task force members, knowing the report needed to withstand rigorous public scrutiny were very cautious to not overstate the statistical analysis presented in the report. Overall, ensuring public confidence in the conclusion was the ultimate goal of DOH and the Covid task force in issuing the report.”

These new revelations from The Journal come as the governor is embroiled in three scandals: for his administration allegedly withholding nursing home death data, for Cuomo allegedly sexually harassing two former staffers, and for him allegedly threatening an assemblyman over the phone.

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Many Republicans and Democrats are calling either for Cuomo to resign or be impeached, though the governor has stated that he does not plan to resign. On Tuesday, however, state lawmakers arrived at an agreement to strip him of his pandemic-related emergency powers.

RELATED: Report: Gov. Cuomo to lose Pandemic Emergency Powers

Back in January, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) published a report in January showing that Cuomo’s administration might have undercounted nursing home deaths “by as much as 50%,” and blamed the March directive.

RELATED: NY AG releases report showing COVID-19 nursing home deaths ‘may have been undercounted by as much as 50%’

The July report, according to The Journal, is of interest in a federal investigation into the Cuomo administration’s handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.