Who’s to blame? Senior advocate, families question undercounted nursing homes COVID-19 deaths

New York State

ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) — A report on nursing home deaths due to COVID-19 is prompting calls for change in Albany, and at the state Department of Health.

For months it’s been hard to tell just how many nursing home resident have died from the virus, the state attorney general saying a report reveals that number is far greater than the official tally and that nursing homes failed to protect residents.

At issue, is the number of nursing home residents who died of CVOID-19 at the hospital, versus at the nursing homes.

Senior advocacy organizations and people with parents in nursing homes say they’re not surprised, the question is who and what is to blame.

Tammy Norsen pictured here hasn’t seen her dad in person in weeks.

“My dad calls me and his upset because he can’t see his family and it’s been going on for so long,” said Tammy Norsen, dad in nursing home.

Many families like Norsen have been pressing the state for months, for a true picture of the pandemic in nursing homes.

A new report from the attorney general reveals the number of COVID-19 that happened inside nursing home has have been unreported by as much as 50%.

According to the report, the department of health had reported about 6,400 resident deaths in nursing homes due to COVID-19 from March to August 3. But, that doesn’t include residents who got sick and later died at a hospital. Those numbers were counted separately.

In addition to the death findings, the report also found insufficient personal protective equipment in nursing homes, and insufficient COVID-19 testing.

Critics like Norsen are blasting the state health commissioner and the governor.

“He needs to loosen up the regulations on nursing homes and assisted facility and stop trying to cover up for mistakes he made in the past and allow families to be together again,” said Norsen.

But some advocates for seniors say the focus should be on improving care

“Well the first thing I thought of, it’s a very sobering kind of thought. and very troubling but not surprising. I would say all along it the seemed like this nursing home count was unreported,” said Ann Marie Cook, president & CEO of lifespan. “In long term I think we have to look at is the way we’re providing long term care the best was we can.”

At least one state senator has called for the resignation of the state health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker.

Dr. Zucker released a response Thursday afternoon, saying in part “New York State Department of Health has always publicly reported the number of fatalities within hospitals irrespective of the residence of the patient, and separately reported the number of fatalities within nursing home facilities and has been clear about the nature of that reporting… The word ‘undercount’ implies there are more total fatalities than have been reported; this is factually wrong.”

He also released the latest numbers, saying between March 1, 2020 and January 19, 2021 9,786 nursing home resident died of COVID-19. He says 3,829 of them died in hospitals.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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