Attorney General Releases Results of Investigation Into Covid-19 Deaths in New York Nursing Homes
In a 76-page report published January 28, NY Attorney General Leticia James’s office (OAG) revealed that the New York Department of Health (DOH) may have underreported Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%. They came to this conclusion after a months-long investigation into two main issues:
- Did nursing homes use proper safety protocols regarding Covid-19?
- Why were/are there discrepancies between the number of deaths reported by nursing homes and the number reported by the health department?
It is not new news that Covid-19 has decimated nursing homes. Until recently, reports have consistently suggested that approximately 1/3 of all Covid-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes. Now it appears this number in New York is far higher. The report also suggests that some of these deaths were partly due to nursing homes’ failure to abide by proper covid-19 safety protocols.
OAG Investigation Concludes that Nursing Home Deaths Were Underreported in New York
The investigation revealed that “many nursing home residents died from Covid-19 in hospitals after being transferred from their nursing homes, which is not reflected in D.O.H.’s published total nursing home death data.”
According to James, the official death toll from Covid-19 in nursing homes rose 50% when you add-in the patients from nursing homes who died in the hospital.
One specific but unnamed nursing home reported “five confirmed and six presumed COVID-19 deaths at the facility as of August 3 to DOH. However, the facility reported to OAG a total of 27 COVID-19 deaths at the facility and 13 hospital deaths — a discrepancy of 29 deaths.” Unfortunately, this is only one of dozens of discrepancies leading to the conclusion that deaths were underreported by approximately 50%.”
Investigation Finds Nursing Homes Did Not Follow Proper Safety Protocols
Many people filed complaints with the OAG about questionable activities allegedly occurring in nursing homes during the pandemic. Some of those complaints were cited in the report and included:
- Failing to properly isolate residents who tested positive for COVID-19;
- Failing to adequately screen or test employees for COVID-19;
- Demanding that sick employees continue to work and care for residents or face retaliation or termination;
- Failing to train employees in infection control protocols; and
- Failing to obtain, fit, and train caregivers with PPE.
Allegations such as the ones above were a large part of the investigation. The OAG concluded that “a number” of nursing homes failed to follow proper safety protocols or “critical infection and control policies.” The investigation report also suggests that New York State government policy may have exacerbated the already dangerous situation facing nursing homes and their residents.
These are some specific findings in the report:
- Lack of compliance with infection control protocols increased the residents’ risk of harm
- Lack of nursing home compliance with the executive order requiring communication with family members caused avoidable pain and distress
- Nursing homes that entered the pandemic with low U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Staffing ratings had higher COVID-19 fatality rates
- Insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for nursing home staff put residents at increased risk of harm
- Insufficient COVID-19 testing for residents and staff in the early stages of the pandemic put residents at increased risk of harm
- Government guidance requiring the admission of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities. It may have also obscured the data available to assess that risk.
OAG Report Recommends Reforms to Keep Nursing Home Residents Safe
The report did not just criticize the response to Covid-19 and the negative impact it has had on the lives and deaths of many New Yorkers and their families. The OAG’s office outlines several systemic reforms that can help ensure “nursing homes take care of our seniors and our most vulnerable residents with dignity, respect and the sufficient care that the law requires.”
Some of the recommendations are:
- Ensure public reporting of Covid-19 deaths that occur at nursing home facilities and those that occur after hospitalization in a manner that ensures accurate statistics
- Vigorously enforce laws requiring nursing homes to provide adequate care and treatments of residents during times of emergency.
- Require nursing homes to obtain and provide adequate staffing levels to care for residents and ensure they stop pressuring employees to work while they have Covid-19 or symptoms of Covid-19.
- Adjust the direct care and supervision staffing levels
- Require additional transparency (and enforce it) in the operation of for-profit nursing homes to ensure that the owners are not taking profits at the expense of staffing and resources residents’ need for proper care.
- Support PPE manufacturing and ensure nursing homes have adequate inventory to follow protocols
- Ensure Covid-19 testing is available and used per guidelines.
- Eliminate the immunity provision that protects for-profit nursing homes from liability related to insufficient care during the pandemic and other health emergencies.
- Formally enact and enforce the regulatory requirements that require prompt communication with residents’ family members regarding suspected or confirmed Covid-19 infection or death.
These are just some of the recommended reforms included in the report. Time will tell what real results will come from the investigation and if any real changes will occur in our nursing homes or the laws that govern them. Of special interest is whether the immunity provision will be amended, possibly paving the way for residents and their families to seek compensation from nursing homes that violated protocols.
Contact Our Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Lawyers at Alonso Krangle, LLP
If someone you love has been injured or died while living in a nursing home, call our lawyers to protect your legal rights.
If negligence occurred, you might be entitled to file a claim and seek compensation. Call our nursing home abuse and neglect lawyers at 800-403-6191 for a free evaluation of your claim.
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