State releases number of COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes and adult-care facilities

Photo by Darren McGee, Office of the Governor
On Wednesday, April 15, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, and State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker discuss the state’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. More than 3,000 people have died in nursing homes and adult care facilities across the state from the virus so far.

State officials released the first county-level data on COVID-19 related deaths in nursing homes and adult care facilities. As of April 14, there have been 3,060 nursing home and adult care facility deaths in the state. 

Both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said there is a balance to releasing information to the public while keeping data private to protect the privacy of nursing home residents. 

At this point, the state is not disclosing which nursing homes and adult care facilities are reporting deaths.

“We are tracking the nursing homes and we want to protect the privacy of individuals in the nursing homes, so we defer that back to the homes themselves [to release data],”  Zucker said last week before this data became public on the Health Department website.

Cuomo announced on Wednesday that officials will be reaching out to nursing homes across the state to determine if more deaths need to be reported that did not happen at a hospital. The most recent data of 752 lives lost on April 14 — of which, 45 were in nursing homes and the rest in hospitals. 

“Don’t discount a person’s right to privacy about the death of a loved one and your right to publicize that death because you want to,” Cuomo told reporters in the Capitol on Wednesday.

The governor said he will issue an executive order requiring all nursing homes to report positive COVID-19 cases and deaths to the families of those living in the nursing home within 24 hours.

The order will also include adult homes and other assisted living facilities.

Previously, State Department of Health issued guidance asking these facilities to communicate this information to families, but this new order makes the reporting mandatory.

With more than 10,000 COVID-19 related deaths in New York, 84.3 percent are people 60-years-old and older with the greatest nursing home fatalities reported in the Bronx and Queens County.

A lack of concrete information from the state creates challenges for people with family and friends in these facilities who cannot physically go and see them.

Under state mandated orders all visitation, except medical care, is suspended in nursing homes and adult care facilities. If a confirmed COVID-19 case is found in these facilities, they are asked to contact the local and state health departments, but are not required to publicly release the data on their own.

The New York chapter of the AARP is encouraging families with loved ones in nursing homes, assisted-living, and other adult long-term living to contact the facility’s administrators to receive direct information about their protocols and data not being released by the state.

The organization that works to assist people 50-years-old and older released a guideline this morning of effective questions to ask nursing home facilities where you know someone residing.

These guidelines provided by the AARP aim to check that nursing home’s are acting in line with the state protocols. This includes knowledge of positive cases, staff prevention measures, access to personal protective equipment (PPE), reports of understaffing, and how families can be regularly contacted about their loved ones.

“New Yorkers need to communicate with their loved ones in nursing homes on a regular basis and to be aware if the virus is present in the facility,” said AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel.

While there is grave concern for the residents in these facilities, the essential staff faces similar challenges as other essential workforces in the state with a shortness of supplies, testing, and a minimum 14-day furlough if they are exposed to the virus or show any symptoms. 

Temporary morgues have been set up inside nursing homes and outside medical centers in New York City, as the death toll rises and space becomes limited.