Image of male nurse pushing senior woman in a wheelchair in nursing facility

New York’s data on coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes may have been undercounted by as much as 50%, according to a state investigation that also took aim at provider compliance with infection control policies and staffing models. 

The findings were included in a 79-page report released Thursday by state Attorney General Letitia James detailing the agency’s ongoing investigations into nursing homes’ responses to the pandemic — the subject of scrutiny in New York but also across the country. The report was based on survey findings from 62 nursing homes, which account for 10% of the total facilities in the state.

The survey revealed the state didn’t include data of nursing home residents who died from COVID-19 in hospitals after being transferred from nursing homes in its death totals, in addition to “apparent underreporting” by some facilities of resident deaths in nursing homes. 

The report also criticized provider staffing practices and compliance with infection control policies. Specifically, it blasted the nursing home industry for failing to properly isolate residents who tested positive for COVID-19; inadequately screening employees; demanding sick employees continue working; not training employees in infection control protocols; and failing to obtain, fit and train caregivers with personal protective equipment. 

It also targeted for-profit facilities and “pre-existing, insufficient staffing levels” at nursing homes that “put residents and staff at increased risk of harm during the pandemic.” 

“Of the state’s 401 for-profit facilities, more than two-thirds — 280 nursing homes — have the lowest possible CMS Staffing ratings,” the report states. 

“As a result, already-low staffing levels decreased even further, to especially dangerous levels in some homes, even as the need for care increased due to the need to comply with COVID-19 infection control protocols and the loss of assistance from family visitors,” the report noted. “OAG’s preliminary investigations reflect many examples where for-profit nursing homes’ pre-pandemic low staffing model simply snapped under the stress of the pandemic.”

James added that the agency is continuing investigations into more than 20 nursing homes across the state based on the report’s findings. She noted the facilities’ “reported conduct during the first wave of the pandemic presented particular concern.” 

“As the pandemic and our investigations continue, it is imperative that we understand why the residents of nursing homes in New York unnecessarily suffered at such an alarming rate,” James said in a statement. “While we cannot bring back the individuals we lost to this crisis, this report seeks to offer transparency that the public deserves and to spur increased action to protect our most vulnerable residents.”