The New York State Health Department has told the Empire Center for Public Policy, a watchdog group, that it requires three more months to respond to a records request for an accounting of Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes, “because the records potentially responsive to your request are currently being reviewed for applicable exemptions, legal privileges and responsiveness.”
According to a report in the New York Post, the Empire Center submitted a Freedom Of Information Law request in early August, asking for “the total number of COVID-19 nursing home fatalities,” including those who died in nursing homes and those who died after being sent to hospitals. As things stand, the Health Department’s accounting only includes residents “physically died in nursing homes.”
As of the publication of the Post report on January 13, more than 8,201 nursing home residents had died in their facilities. A representative for the Empire Center for Public Policy suggested that the number of unreported deaths “could be in the thousands.” That representative, Bill Hammond, suggested that a full accounting should be easily managed, because New York’s reporting system for nursing home deaths “asks nursing homes for a count of residents who died after being transferred to hospitals as well as those who died in their facilities.”
The New York Post also cited an anonymous “nursing home industry insider” who expressed surprise at the state’s delay, pointing out that “The DOH has minute-by-minute data of nursing home deaths.” As the Post notes, the Department of Health has even fined a number of nursing homes for failing to timely submit daily reports on Covid-19 cases. The Department of Health said in its response to the FOIL request that “this Office is unable to respond to your request by the date previously given to you because the records potentially responsive to your request are currently being reviewed for applicable exemptions, legal privileges and responsiveness,” and that it may need even further time after the date it expects to complete the legal review, March 22, 2021.
A January 11, 2021 article in the Times Union notes that the Cuomo administration has also declined to provide records behind its July report “absolving itself of blame for thousands of COVID-19-related deaths at nursing homes in New York.” The administration told the Times Union that exemptions in the state’s Freedom of Information Law allow it to withhold the records in question. The US Department of Justice has also asked the DOH to turn over records regarding nursing home Covid-19 fatalities. Hammond, the Empire Center policy fellow, suggested to the Times Union that the state is withholding the records because “there’s something they don’t want the world to know… They’ve made this extremely detailed analysis and are refusing to share the details necessary to fact-check that analysis. I think it’s fair for people to wonder: ‘Why wouldn’t they wouldn’t be happy to share it?’
In a statement released January 14, 2021, New York State Senator James Tedisco accused the governor of covering up nursing home deaths. “It’s been over five months since our FOIL request of the DOH was made to learn what the true number of nursing home residents is who died in the first wave of the coronavirus but the Cuomo Administration continues its cover-up, stonewalling and obfuscation,” he said. “History has shown that the cover-up is often worse than what’s being covered-up. Sadly, a lack of transparency has been a hallmark of this Administration. Enough stalling. We need to get the facts so we can provide a measure of closure for the families who lost their loved ones and help prevent this from happening again.”
The attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC work diligently to protect the rights of nursing home residents. Please contact us to discuss in the event you have a potential case involving neglect or abuse.