After a report from New York Attorney General Letitia James confirmed suspicions of under-reporting the official record of COVID-19 nursing home deaths, counsel for the Empire Center submitted a letter to the Albany County Supreme Court renewing its urgent Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request.
The letter asserts that the FOIL request—which asks the State Department of Health (DOH) for nursing home resident deaths by date and nursing home resident deaths by facility, regardless of location of death—is now more important than ever, because the AG report contains significant findings and policy recommendations based on incomplete information.
“OAG supports its findings and recommendations regarding staffing levels with nursing homes death data it admits to being incomplete. These findings and recommendations have important public policy and consumer protection implications. But no such findings and recommendations should be based on incomplete data,” the letter, signed by Cameron Macdonald of the Government Justice Center, reads in part. “Empire Center made its FOIL request for this express purpose. New York needs a sound public policy response to the COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residences that cannot be done without complete information.”
“No one should consider this fight for public records to be over. The commissioner has provided only the cumulative totals for a single day, Jan. 19. What the Empire Center requested—and what the state is legally obliged to reveal—are the day-by-day numbers for each individual nursing home,” said Bill Hammond, senior fellow at the Empire Center. “The department absolutely should check its numbers and correct errors where necessary, but using that routine process to justify withholding the data from the public sets a dangerous precedent. If agencies were allowed to withhold records because of concerns about inaccuracy, the Freedom of Information Law would be rendered meaningless.”
The Empire Center filed its FOIL request with the DOH on August 3rd, 2020. For more information on the actions taken by the Empire Center to obtain the full truth, click here.
The Empire Center, based in Albany, is an independent, not-for-profit, non-partisan think tank dedicated to promoting policies that can make New York a better place to live, work and raise a family.