The state Health Department has revealed additional detail about coronavirus deaths in New York nursing homes, showing for the first time how many residents of each home died of COVID-19 outside of the facility, typically in a hospital.

The new disclosures represent a small fraction of what a court ordered the department to release under a Freedom of Information request by the Empire Center.

A report dated Feb. 4, posted on Saturday, shows a total of 13,163 nursing home residents have died during the pandemic, of which 4,067, or 31 percent, passed away outside the facilities.

The Cuomo administration had previously omitted hospital deaths from its reporting on nursing home data, a practice used by no other state.

On Jan. 28, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker revealed that 3,829 residents had died in hospitals as of Jan. 19. That acknowledgement came after a report on the pandemic in nursing homes from the office of Attorney General Letitia James faulted the Health Department for under-reporting the death toll.

Last week, a state Supreme Court justice ordered the department to fulfill a Freedom of Information request filed by the Empire Center seeking comprehensive data on nursing home deaths during the pandemic. 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 department has now posted facility-level totals for a single day—Feb. 4—whereas the center requested facility-level numbers for each day of the pandemic.

The additional detail is necessary to assess the impact of specific events and policies, such the Health Department’s much-debated March 25 guidance memo—which for several weeks compelled nursing homes to admit patients who were coronavirus positive, and which many critics have blamed for contributing to the high death toll among residents.

Saturday’s report also took the form of a PDF file, which is difficult to use for statistical analysis. The Empire Center’s request specified that the data should be provided in spreadsheet format.

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

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