The New York State Department of Health has released updated data on Covid-19 deaths among the state’s nursing home residents, several days after a state Supreme Court judge ordered the department to fulfill a watchdog group’s Freedom of Information request.
The data released Saturday comes over a week after the state attorney general said in a report that the department had undercounted Covid-19 deaths among nursing home residents by about 50%.
Data released on the department’s website Saturday shows 13,197 confirmed and presumed-positive Covid-19 deaths of nursing home residents across the state from March 1, 2020 to February 5, 2021. Of those deaths, 4,080 occurred after a nursing home resident was transported outside the facility, the data shows.
The data reflect a slight uptick in the previously reported numbers. In a statement released last week in response to the attorney general’s report, state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said that, at that time, the health department had recorded a total of 12,743 confirmed and presumed-positive Covid-19 deaths among nursing home residents through January 19 — 3,829 of which occurred outside nursing home facilities.
The updated numbers on Saturday offered a new picture of the pandemic’s toll in the nearly 600 nursing homes across the state, breaking down the number of deaths for each facility.
Many nursing homes saw the number of deaths double or triple when factoring in the confirmed Covid-19 deaths of residents that occurred outside their facility.
One nursing home in the Bronx, for example, had recorded three deaths since March 1, 2020. But there were another 18 deaths of residents who died after being transported out of the facility, according to the new data.
Zucker last week denied there was an undercount, saying the department “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 and has been clear about the nature of that reporting.”
State Supreme Court Justice Kimberly O’Connor on Wednesday had ordered the health department to release data on nursing home deaths to the watchdog group Empire Center. The group had sued the Department of Health, saying it was stalling on the group’s Freedom of Information Law request.
O’Connor had given the state health department five days to hand over the appropriate records to the group, saying it had not offered an “adequate explanation” for why it had not responded to the request in a timely manner.
According to a news release from the group, Empire Center had requested the records on August 3, 2020. The health department had postponed three times, most recently until March 22, the release said.
Still, Empire Center’s senior fellow for health policy Bill Hammond said Saturday that the updated data did not meet the demands of its information request.
“The order gave the department five business days to comply, and it has not yet formally contacted the Empire Center. The details released Saturday represent a tiny fraction of what the Empire Center requested,” the release says.
Asked about Empire Center’s statement, health department spokesman Gary Holmes told CNN, “These are data review and data sharing projects that are running on parallel tracks. The FOIL response is being finalized at the same time we are constantly updating publicly facing data on the DOH website. We said we would do both after our preliminary audit was complete, and we’re doing that.”