Politics & Policy

Cuomo Aides Altered Nursing Home Report to Conceal Death Toll

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the State address virtually from The War Room at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y., January 11, 2021. (Hans Pennink/Pool via Reuters)

Aides to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo rewrote a July report by state health officials to conceal the number of nursing home residents who died from coronavirus in the state, according to reports.

Cuomo’s top aides worked to hide the fact that more than 9,000 nursing home residents had died from the virus in the state at the time, according to reports from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. 

The reports come as Cuomo has been embroiled in a number of scandals as of late, including investigations into both his mishandling of nursing homes during the pandemic and the alleged coverup that followed, as well as three sexual harassment allegations against the governor.

A top aide to Governor Cuomo admitted last month that the administration covered up the true data on nursing home deaths from the coronavirus in New York state in order to hide the magnitude of the issue from federal authorities.

Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa apologized to state Democratic lawmakers during a recent video conference call, saying “we froze” out of fear that the real nursing home death numbers would “be used against us” by federal prosecutors, the New York Post reported.

However, the New York Times reports the coverup efforts were underway before federal authorities requested the data, and just as Cuomo began writing a book touting his pandemic leadership achievements. The rewritten report, which concealed the number of deaths and found that Cuomo’s policies were not at fault for the nursing home death toll, was released just four days before the governor announced he was working on a book.

Cuomo finally released the complete data on nursing homes earlier this year, only after the state attorney general found that thousands of deaths of nursing home residents have been undercounted. The governor said then he had withheld it to avoid a “politically motivated” inquiry from the Trump administration into the state’s handling of the virus in nursing homes.

The governor has repeatedly come under fire for a policy he put in place from late March to May forcing nursing homes to accept coronavirus-positive patients after they were discharged from hospitals, causing the virus to spread like wildfire among elderly nursing home residents. 

The nonprofit Empire Center for Public Policy released a report last month which found that the controversial order was “associated with” more than one in six of the 5,780 nursing home deaths that occurred in New York state statewide between the end of March and beginning of May.

Cuomo’s aides clashed with the state’s health officials over the July report, which the Health Department worked on with the consulting firm McKinsey. The report included a chart comparing nursing home deaths in New York with other states, according to the New York Times, which showed that New York’s total of 9,250 deaths was far greater than that of the next highest state, New Jersey, which had 6,150 at that time.

The chart put the death toll at about 50 percent higher than the number the Cuomo administration had touted at the time. The State had publicly reported nursing home deaths differently than other states, by excluding residents who had been transferred to hospitals and died there.

Three of Cuomo’s aides — all of whom had no public health expertise — fought with health officials to rewrite the report: DeRosa; Linda Lacewell, the head of the state’s Department of Financial Services; and Jim Malatras, a former top adviser to the governor who was brought back to work on the pandemic response. None had public health expertise.

In a statement to the Times, Beth Garvey, a special counsel to the governor said the out-of-facility data was omitted after D.O.H. could not confirm it had been adequately verified.” The additional data did not change the conclusion of the 33-page report, she said, which was that Cuomo’s policies were not at fault for the nursing home death toll.

More than 47,000 New Yorkers, including more than 15,000 nursing home residents, have died from the coronavirus.

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