Report: Team Cuomo suppressed data, changed report on nursing home deaths

by WorldTribune Staff, March 5, 2021

Top advisers to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo were successful in coercing state health officials into altering a report on Covid-19 nursing home deaths, resulting in a significant undercount of the death toll, a report said.

Melissa DeRosa, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aide, pictured with the governor in September 2018. / Mary Altaffer / AP

In the July report, New York health officials, at the Cuomo team’s behest, focused only on residents who died inside long-term-care facilities, leaving out those who had died in hospitals after becoming sick in nursing homes, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, citing sources with knowledge of the report’s production.

The report said 6,432 nursing-home residents had died — a significant undercount of the death toll attributed to the state’s most vulnerable population, the sources said. Before Team Cuomo’s intervention, the initial version of the report noted that nearly 10,000 nursing-home residents had died of covid in New York by July.

The Journal noted that “state officials now say more than 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 — counting both those who died in long-term-care facilities and those who died later in hospitals. That figure is about 50 percent higher than earlier official death tolls.”

Several of Cuomo’s top advisers — who were members of his Covid-19 task force — reviewed and requested changes to the health department’s July report, the Journal had previously reported.

They included the governor’s top aide Melissa DeRosa; Health Commissioner Howard Zucker; Jim Malatras, a longtime adviser who was named chancellor of New York’s public college system in August; and Linda Lacewell, the superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services.

Cuomo, who issued an order on March 25, 2020 mandating that no nursing home could refuse to readmit residents or admit new residents from hospitals solely because of a Covid-19 diagnosis, has continually insisted that his administration followed federal guidance and acted to preserve hospital capacity.

Nursing-home operators say they learned of Cuomo’s policy only after it was issued, and immediately objected, noting that the policy would introduce the virus into their facilities.

State lawmakers from both parties have said the out-of-facility death data was critical for them to evaluate nursing-home policies that could prevent future fatalities, the Journal’s report said. They said the Cuomo administration’s decision to delay release of the vital information constitutes a coverup of data the governor knew would be damaging to his political stature.

DeRosa explained the delay to state lawmakers during a Feb. 10 meeting. She said that the state sidelined a legislative request for the data because of a U.S. Department of Justice inquiry.

In January, a report by the New York Attorney General said the state had undercounted nursing-home deaths and said the governor’s directive may have spread the disease.

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