The vacancy rate in New York’s nursing homes has more than doubled since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting that the death toll among residents may be thousands higher than officially reported.

According to the state Health Department’s weekly census of nursing homes, 21 percent of nursing home beds were vacant as of May 20, up from an average of 8 percent over the previous two years.


This is an installment in a special series of #NYCoronavirus chronicles by Empire Center analysts, focused on New York’s state and local policy response to the coronavirus pandemic.


That 13-point increase suggests that the total number of nursing home residents across the state, which is normally about 100,000, had declined by roughly 13,000 in the space of nine weeks.

That’s more than double the official count of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes, which was 5,710 through May 20 and stood at 6,260 as of Sunday.

Not all of the newly empty beds can be directly attributed to coronavirus. Nursing home officials report that new admissions have slowed dramatically during the crisis – due to a general decline in medical care and concern among patients and family members about conditions in the homes. This means that patients who die from any cause are less likely to be replaced.

Source: NYS Health Department

Yet it’s clear that the state is undercounting nursing home deaths, because it instructs homes to report only patients who die within their facilities, not those who are transported to a hospital first.

How much difference that policy makes can be seen by comparing the state’s numbers with weekly data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control, which counts the deaths of all nursing home residents regardless of where they occur.

The CDC’s first round of reports on May 24 are not useful for comparison because the agency allowed homes to retroactively include all deaths since Jan. 1, but did not require it. Reports since then have counted only deaths in the previous week.

From May 24 to June 14, the CDC tallied 656 deaths attributed to coronavirus in New York nursing homes, or just over one-third of all patient deaths during that period. The state’s count of COVID fatalities during those same weeks was only 383 – implying that 42 percent of the patients counted by the CDC had been transferred to hospitals before they died.

If that same ratio has held throughout the crisis, the true toll of coronavirus in New York’s nursing homes would be almost double the state’s official number, or more than 10,000.

About the Author

Bill Hammond

As the Empire Center’s senior fellow for health policy, Bill Hammond tracks fast-moving developments in New York’s massive health care industry, with a focus on how decisions made in Albany and Washington affect the well-being of patients, providers, taxpayers and the state’s economy.

Read more by Bill Hammond

You may also like

Sluggish in September: NY job growth still trails U.S.

New York's employment recovery slowed to a near halt in the crucial month of September, falling further behind the national growth rate in the 18th full month since the pandemic hit in March 2020, according to and federal monthly job reports. On a sea Read More

The Health Department’s response to a FOIL request for nursing home data triggers 2020 déjà vu

Despite Governor Hochul's promise of transparency, the Health Department keeps responding to requests for COVID data with tactics from the Cuomo administration Read More

Hochul’s Emergency Order Imposes Insurer Restrictions Sought by Hospital Group

Buried in Governor Hochul's emergency order on health-care staffing is a temporary bar against insurance companies challenging claims submitted by hospitals–and an influential hospital association is taking credit. Read More

Home Care Agencies Project Widespread Staffing Shortages in the Next Phase of New York’s Vaccine Mandate

Agencies providing home-based care to elderly and disabled New Yorkers face a large-scale loss of employees when the next phase of the state's vaccine mandate takes effect on Oct. 7, according to a newly released industry s Read More

Remembering the scandal that brought down Health Commissioner Howard Zucker

The resignation of Dr. Howard Zucker as state health commissioner marks the end of a term marred by scandal over his role in managing the coronavirus pandemic. The much-debated compelling nursing homes to admit COVID-positive patients, though it origi Read More

As leaves turn, NY’s post-pandemic recovery still has very far to go

Entering the second autumn since the COVID-19 outbreak of March 2020, the pace of New York State's pandemic economic recovery has been abysmal by almost any standard. New York was the national epicenter of the pandemic, and Governor Cuomo's "" business Read More

More NY job gains in August—but employment needs to rise a lot further

New York's jobs report for August looked relatively strong—but only by comparison, that is, with . On a seasonally adjusted basis, New York gained 28,000 private-sector jobs last month—a growth rate of 0.4 percent, according to . This was double th Read More

After 10 weeks, all but five of the Empire Center’s 63 requests for pandemic data remain unfulfilled

Over the 10 days that Hochul has been in office, there has been no further progress on the Empire Center's record requests. Read More

Subscribe

Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100

General Inquiries: Info@EmpireCenter.org

Press Inquiries: Press@EmpireCenter.org

About

The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.

Empire Center Logo Enjoying our work? Sign up for email alerts on our latest news and research.
Together, we can make New York a better place to live and work!