14,100 nursing home residents have died

GLOVERSVILLE — Since the start of the pandemic through Tuesday, 14,100 nursing home residents statewide have died of the coronavirus. Of those individuals, 46 residents of Fulton County nursing homes and 60 residents of Montgomery County nursing homes have died.

A report issued by state Attorney General Letitia James on Jan. 28 found that a larger number of nursing home residents died from the COVID-19 than had been publicly reported by the state Department of Health. The report indicated those numbers may have been undercounted by as much as 50 percent.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker in response issued a statement on Jan. 28 saying that statewide coronavirus deaths have been accurately reported, with the data on deaths in nursing homes and at hospitals reported separately.

“There was no undercount of the total death toll from this once-in-a-century pandemic. The OAG affirms that the total number of deaths in hospitals and nursing homes is full and accurate. New York State Department of Health has always publicly reported the number of fatalities within hospitals irrespective of the residence of the patient, and separately reported the number of fatalities within nursing home facilities,” stated Zucker.

Zucker additionally stated that since the start of the pandemic through Jan. 19, a total of 9,786 confirmed coronavirus deaths have been associated with skilled nursing facility residents statewide, including 5,957 fatalities within nursing facilities and 3,829 within a hospital.

The attorney general’s findings were released just two weeks before the state on Wednesday finally released data on nursing home deaths to the Empire Center for Public Policy, an Albany based think tank, that was sought six months earlier through a Freedom of Information Law request, that turned into a months-long lawsuit to obtain the information.

“This six-month fight should not have been necessary, the department should have been disclosing these numbers all along, and certainly should have provided them upon request—not just from Empire Center, but from legislators, reporters and members of the public,” the Empire Center stated in a press release on Wednesday.

After issuing a FOIL request that was not complied with, the Empire Center with the Government Justice Center filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Albany County in September to obtain the information. State Sen. James Tedisco also filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the lawsuit.

State Supreme Court Justice Kimberly O’Connor last week ordered the state to release the records on nursing home deaths, the release from the Empire Center states that the records that were issued on Wednesday only partially comply with the judge’s order.

“The department’s response falls short of what was requested,” the release states. “The records do not fully account for the deaths of some 600 residents that occurred outside of the long-term care facilities, most often in hospitals, in which the COVID-19 diagnosis was presumed rather than confirmed. The department provided a summary of those deaths, but not their dates.”

The Empire Center publicly released the data from the DOH online that shows that 14,100 nursing home residents statewide have died from the coronavirus since March through Tuesday.

“Those revelations increased the known death toll from about 9,000 to almost 15,000—making clear that the pandemic’s toll on long-term care residents was much worse than the Cuomo administration previously portrayed it to be,” the Empire Center stated.

Tedisco also issued a statement on Wednesday following the state’s release of the data on nursing home deaths.

“The deaths of about 15,000 New Yorkers from the coronavirus in state-regulated nursing homes has been one of the worst, most horrific events in our state’s history. Families of those who lost loved ones to the virus deserve closure and we need to know what went wrong that enabled this terrible tragedy to occur,” stated Tedisco.

Tedisco was critical of the failure of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration and the DOH to release the information initially and further delaying its release until it was court ordered. The senator called on the state to immediately release the additional information requested by the Empire Center and announced plans to introduce legislation setting penalties for failure by public officials to comply with FOIL requests as required under state open government law.

The state data released by the Empire Center shows that 46 nursing home residents in Fulton County have died since the start of the pandemic; 23 deaths occurred at nursing home facilities and 23 deaths occurred outside of facilities.

The majority of the nursing home deaths in Fulton County are attributed to the Fulton Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Gloversville where 40 residents have died of the coronavirus since March. Additional coronavirus deaths were reported at Nathan Littauer Hospital & Nursing Home in Gloversville where two nursing home residents have died and at Wells Nursing Home in Johnstown where four residents have died.

The Fulton Center was the site of a widespread coronavirus outbreak that began in late April and stretched into early June. The Fulton County Public Health Department reported 111 Fulton Center residents and 24 staff members tested positive for the coronavirus during that outbreak. According to the state data released by the Empire Center, 21 Fulton Center residents died of the coronavirus between March and June 24.

The Fulton Center experienced three additional coronavirus deaths in July and August. No other coronavirus deaths were reported until Dec. 31 when one Fulton Center resident died outside of the facility. Since that date, a total of 16 Fulton Center residents have died. The most recently recorded death occurred on Sunday.

Those recent deaths occurred as the Fulton Center experienced a recent coronavirus outbreak as documented on a COVID-19 reporting page on the facility’s website that was launched in the spring. The site is updated daily with statistics on in-house coronavirus cases. Those statistics are also submitted to the DOH.

On Jan. 6, the Fulton Center reported active coronavirus infections among two residents and two staff members. At the height of the current outbreak, 38 residents and 30 staff members had active infections as reported by the facility on Jan. 21. Today the Fulton Center is reporting active infections among one resident and one staff member.

Fulton Center spokesperson Jeff Jacomowitz earlier this month in a prepared statement issued in response to a request for comment attributed the recent outbreak at the facility to the post-holiday surge that has been experienced across the nation. The spokesperson additionally said that the Fulton Center is following state and federal guidelines surrounding use of personal protective equipment, screening, testing and isolation of confirmed positive cases to prevent and contain infections.

According to the state data, a total of 60 nursing home residents from Montgomery County facilities have died from the coronavirus since March; 50 of those deaths occurred at nursing homes and 10 deaths occurred outside of facilities.

Among those individuals were 15 residents from Capstone Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Amsterdam, nine residents from Palatine Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Palatine Bridge, 17 residents from River Ridge Living Center in Amsterdam and 19 residents from Wilkinson Residential Health Care Facility in Amsterdam operated by St. Mary’s Healthcare.

By Patricia Older