Anne McCloy

ALBANY NY (WRGB) – Bill Hammond says New York State is misrepresenting the number of COVID-19 deaths that have happened in nursing homes during this pandemic.

“The State has been counting nursing home deaths in an unusual way,” he said.

Hammond is Senior Fellow for Health Policy at The Empire Center for Public Policy, a self-described “government watchdog group” in Albany. He spoke to CBS 6’s Anne McCloy about his recent report analyzing numbers surrounding the nursing home debacle.

Anne: “Why is it important to get the real numbers?”

Bill Hammond: “To learn lessons from it.”

Hammond says the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) is only releasing the number of deaths that occurred within the four walls of the nursing home, and is not including deaths at hospitals. So, Hammond pulled different numbers, instead analyzing the number of empty beds, or vacancies.

“A 13-point difference means there are 13,000 normally there who aren’t there,” Hammond said.

NYSDOH has the death rate from nursing homes at about 6,500, but with the vacancy rate at 13,000, Hammond says the death count is likely much higher. The agency did not provide CBS 6 the number of nursing home deaths from hospitals.

Hammond believes the State has been reluctant to release the numbers because of potential political fallout.

“If they revise their death count and it goes up by as many as I think it will go up, it’s not going to be a good news story and it won’t be a flattering news story,” Hammond said.

Rich Azzopardi, Senior Advisor to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo responded, in a statement:

“Trust shady right-wing think tanks with undisclosed funders at your own peril,” Azzopardi said.

Azzopardi’s statement said the spike in deaths were “likely caused by asymptomatic staffers” early on in the pandemic and “predated the March 25th directive”.

Governor Cuomo has been widely criticized for a March policy that allowed COVID-19 positive patients into nursing homes. Hammond agrees that the issue has been politicized.

“The line of attack has been Governor Cuomo deliberately introduced Coronavirus into nursing homes. I think that is unfair and over the top,” Hammond said.

But Hammond says Cuomo has taken the wrong route by dismissing all questions and criticism as a political conspiracy.

“The importance of discussing this and getting the true facts out is to understand what did and didn’t happen so we can learn from it in case this happens again,” Hammond said.

Hammond said it’s critical the State be transparent so that it can prepare for a possible resurgence of COVID-19 in the Fall, and says transparency will help the State to make future pandemic plans.

State lawmakers plan to hold public hearings into the State’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic beginning Monday.

© 2020 CBS6 Albany

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