Johan Sheridan

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The Empire Center filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Health on Friday.

“This case isn’t about assigning blame or embarrassing political leaders,” said Bill Hammond, the Empire Center’s senior fellow for health policy. “It’s about gaining a full and accurate understanding of what happened, which is crucial to improving our defenses against the next pandemic.”

The Empire Center says it submitted a Freedom of Information Law request for data on nursing home operations to DOH on August 3. They say these records track deaths among nursing home residents, and would help determine how many died from coronavirus since the outbreak began.

The FOIL request sought the number who died in a hospital after being transferred out of a nursing home. The Empire Center says DOH leaves those individuals out of its official tally. In a letter dated August 31, DOH responded to the request by saying they would provide the information no sooner than November 5 “because a diligent search for relevant documents is still being conducted.”

On Wednesday, DOH said the records “need to be located and then reviewed,” before releasing them for public consumption.

The lawsuit seeks the release of Health Emergency Response Data System submissions. Through HERDS, DOH collects daily numbers of confirmed and presumed coronavirus deaths inside and outside nursing homes or assisted care facilities.

The Albany-based Empire Center is an independent, nonprofit think-tank usually focused on economic policy. Although the Empire Center describes itself as nonpartisan, watchdog groups generally classify it as a conservative-leaning organization.

© 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc.

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