ALBANY (TNS) – The Cuomo administration underestimated COVID deaths in nursing homes by at least 4,100 as the pandemic raged across the Empire State, according to an audit released Tuesday by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
The audit details how health officials underestimated nursing home deaths by more than 50% at times during the height of the pandemic, echoing similar findings reported by the attorney general’s office. Letitia James last year.
Auditors also found that officials were ill-prepared for such a deadly outbreak in aged care facilities and that the Department of Health intentionally obscured death information as former Governor Andrew Cuomo sought to control what was made public.
“The public has been misled by those at the highest levels of state government by twisting and suppressing the facts when New Yorkers deserve the truth,” DiNapoli said in a statement.
The comptroller’s office has also faced resistance from Health Department officials who have refused to provide auditors with a breakdown of nursing home residents who have died from COVID, meaning the true toll the deadly virus has done to nursing home residents remains unknown.
New York has significantly trailed other states in investigating nursing homes and developing strategies to prevent infections from spreading in facilities, DiNapoli said.
The audit found that Cuomo officials “regularly flag incorrect data, inflating perceptions of New York’s performance relative to other states.”
For much of the pandemic, the Cuomo administration only counted residents who died in aged care facilities, not those who died in hospitals, when releasing information about nursing homes.
James’ office first accused the Cuomo administration of dramatically underreporting nursing home deaths in a January 2021 report that questioned how officials reported data to the public.
This prompted then-Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to release revised statistics, including hospital deaths, which almost doubled the number of deaths previously available and brought it to more than 15. 000 elderly people.
James applauded the DiNapoli team for digging into the issue.
“I am grateful to Comptroller DiNapoli for bringing much-needed transparency to this critical issue,” she said in a statement. “My office will continue to monitor nursing home conditions and ensure the safety of our most vulnerable residents.”
The Department of Health pushed back against the findings of DiNapoli’s report and, in an official response, argued that any discrepancies were the fault of Cuomo officials.
“[T]The scope of health data that was made public by the previous administration was determined by this executive chamber, not department staff,” the agency responded.
Cuomo resigned last August following a bombshell report from James’s office that detailed multiple allegations of sexual harassment made by junior staffers and even a state trooper over the disgraced Democrat’s security details. .
A separate Assembly impeachment inquiry backed up many of the charges against Cuomo, who has attempted a comeback of sorts in recent weeks and found his administration openly manipulated nursing home death data. .
DiNapoli’s report comes as Cuomo attempts to rehabilitate his image with television commercials and appearances at churches in Brooklyn and the Bronx.
Cuomo says he was exonerated and cleared of the sexual misconduct allegations after district attorneys statewide declined to bring criminal charges against him. He and his legal team argued that James was part of a political conspiracy that plotted to bring him down.
Still, it may be his administration’s handling of the pandemic that could come back to haunt the former governor who received an Emmy for his near-daily televised COVID briefings.
In January, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office decided not to press charges for the handling of coronavirus deaths in nursing homes under Cuomo’s tenure. However, federal prosecutors also probed the matter.
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