Cuomo administration undercounted nursing home deaths, audit says

The administration of then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo failed to account for about 4,100 nursing home residents in New York who died from COVID-19 a new audit by the state comptroller revealed.

The audit, released Tuesday evening, states that at certain points during the pandemic, the state Health Department undercounted the number of nursing home deaths by more than 50%.

This is now the third state inquiry that has concluded that Cuomo's administration significantly and deliberately withheld the true nursing home death toll during the pandemic. A report by the state attorney general and the state Assembly's impeachment probe released last year said the same.

"Our audit findings are extremely troubling," Comptroller Tom DiNapoli wrote. "The public was misled by those at the highest level of state government through distortion and suppression of the facts when New Yorkers deserved the truth."

Towards the beginning of the pandemic, Cuomo's administration stopped counting the number of nursing home residents who contracted COVID in a facility but later died in a hospital in the total number of COVID nursing home deaths. During that time, Cuomo also issued an emergency directive that allowed COVID-positive patients to be admitted into nursing homes. 

Get breaking news alerts in the free FOX5NY News app | Sign up for FOX 5 email newsletters

It wasn't until Attorney General Letitia James released a bombshell report in January 2021 was it confirmed that the Cuomo administration had been downplaying the number of nursing home COVID deaths by more than 50%. Shortly after, Cuomo officials added more than 3,800 deaths to the state's nursing home death tally. 

But the comptroller's audit said that health officials still have not provided auditors with a breakdown by name of nursing home residents who died from COVID and the true death toll is still uncertain. The comptroller's audit attributes some undercounting at the beginning of the pandemic to "poor-quality data it was collecting initially," but later on "a deliberate decision."

For example, the audit states that from May 3, 2020, to Feb. 3, 2021, the Cuomo administration had internal data showing that 13,147 nursing home residents had died from COVID but they were only publicly reporting 9,076 resident deaths. 

"As the number of out-of-facility deaths were reported last January, this is not news," Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi responded in a statement. "However, what is peculiar is the comptroller's release of this audit now — but no one has ever accused him of being above politics."

The audit also found that the Health Department only surveyed 20% of nursing homes for infection control problems between March 23 and May 30, 2020, "compared with over 90% for some other states." The Health Department had to hire temporary employees to conduct these surveys because "it was understaffed." Although the department issued 602 violations, for 69% of them "there was no indication that the deficiency was corrected," the audit said.

The Comptroller's Office also said that the Health Department "imposed impediments on the audit" by delaying requests, limiting contact with program staff, and not addressing questions during meetings. 

Related Stories

"These are not routine actions by state agencies undergoing an Office of the State Comptroller audit and raise serious concerns about the control environment at the Department of Health," the audit states. 

This 41-page page report comes as Cuomo looks to potentially make a return to the public spotlight. Cuomo resigned as governor in August 2021 when it became clear he would be facing an impeachment trial over alleged sexual misconduct among numerous other scandals. 

Cuomo made an appearance at a church in Brooklyn earlier this month, touting that he had been exonerated since he was never charged criminally for the sexual harassment allegations. He has also released two television ads that remind viewers of his work while he was governor. 

On Thursday, Cuomo is expected to speak at Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr.'s church in the Bronx. Diaz is a former state and city lawmaker who has spoken out against same-sex marriage and abortion. 

More than 67,000 New Yorkers have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, including 15,360 nursing home residents, according to state data.