Revamped Nursing Home Virus Death Reports Show Far Higher Toll Than Before Known

Revamped Nursing Home Virus Death Reports Show Far Higher Toll Than Before Known

By Yoav Gonen, Ann Choi, and Josefa Velasquez, originally published in THE CITY.

New York City’s running tally of reported nursing home deaths leapt 47% to 2,785 as of Sunday, as state officials released a fuller but still incomplete picture of the damage inflicted by coronavirus.

The surge in reported deaths came after the state Department of Health introduced more stringent reporting rules for nursing homes — now requiring disclosure of not only the deaths of patients who tested positive for COVID-19, but also those presumed killed by the virus.

Previously, only a limited number of nursing homes reported presumed COVID deaths, creating a patchwork picture.

Even with the improved reporting, City Councilmember Mark Treyger (D-Brooklyn) said he still believes the figures fall well short of the true devastation.

“I think a lot of these numbers are just being underreported, not counted,” he said.

“You don’t allow something of this magnitude to fall on the back of a self-reporting mechanism,” added Treyger, who has been sounding the alarm on nursing homes in southern Brooklyn throughout the crisis. “I don’t think nursing homes are going to proactively report to the state that they’re in trouble and they need help.”

Treyger has been critical of state and city government for not forming a plan to better protect nursing home residents from the deadly virus, even as officials teamed to shield the hospital system from collapse.

He’s especially dismissive of a state policy that requires only temperature checks for nursing home staffers upon entry — rather than a universal testing program that could better identify COVID-positive workers before they entered the facilities.

Feeding Ground

The state Department of Health has still not publicly reported statistics on nursing home residents who died at a hospital, even though the agency has required nursing homes to submit that information for weeks.

On Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his administration has also begun asking hospitals to report to the state which patients had come from a nursing home.

“The question we’re now asking the hospitals — one of the questions that I posed: Was someone transferred from a nursing home to a hospital and then passed away in the hospital? And we want to know that,” Cuomo told reporters in Albany.

Nursing homes have been a particularly deadly feeding ground for the virus. In New York City alone, deaths among nursing home residents make up nearly 15% of the 18,909 fatalities reported as of Monday, city and state data show.

The latest state numbers, which go back to March 1, indicate that 36 nursing homes citywide — nearly one in four of those reporting fatalities — have seen at least 10% of their residents succumb to the virus, according to THE CITY’s analysis.

This includes two city nursing homes where more than 20% of the residents have reportedly died of COVID-19: The Sapphire Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Queens, where 50 residents have died, and the Haym Solomon Home for the Aged in Brooklyn, where 46 passed away.

Through last Friday, the Haym Solomon Home reported seven fatalities. Under the new reporting system, the number of reported deaths soared to 46 as of Sunday.

The Bath Beach nursing home reported three confirmed COVID-19 deaths — along with 43 that occurred there and are presumed to have been caused by the virus.

The Schervier Nursing Care Center in The Bronx zoomed from six to 40 reported COVID deaths under the new reporting protocol.

And three nursing homes that hadn’t previously been listed on the state’s accounting are now each reporting 50 or more deaths from confirmed or presumed COVID-19.

The Phoenix Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, reported 54 deaths as of Sunday — 19 confirmed and 35 presumed to be from coronavirus.

Manhattan’s Amsterdam Nursing home reported seven confirmed and 45 presumed COVID deaths.

The Citadel Rehabilitation and Nursing Center at Kingsbridge, in The Bronx, had not previously reported any deaths to the state. In the latest data, The Citadel reported 50 COVID-related deaths — two confirmed deaths from the virus, and 48 presumed COVID fatalities.

Until Tuesday’s Department of Health nursing home fatality report, nursing homes that had five or fewer deaths were exempt from the list as a privacy measure.

Reached Tuesday, an employee at Citadel said it was their “corporate policy” not to talk to the media.

Reps at Sapphire, Phoenix, Schervier and Haym Solomon nursing homes didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The newest tally includes 154 nursing homes, 90% of the city’s total.

Of those, 111 were not listed on previous Department of Health nursing home fatality lists because they had reported five or fewer deaths from COVID-19. Altogether, those facilities accounted for more than half of the nearly 2,800 deaths logged as of Sunday.

Doubting Guidance

Elected officials and public health experts have questioned other elements of the state’s response to the crisis at nursing homes. That includes a March 25 advisory from the state Department of Health saying nursing homes can’t reject a COVID-positive patient from a hospital who is in stable condition solely because the patient has COVID-19.

The critics also said introducing known COVID-19 patients into a vulnerable nursing home setting was highly risky — and suggested placing them elsewhere, such as the Javits Center temporary hospital in Manhattan.

On Tuesday, Cuomo and other state officials suggested nursing homes had the final say over whether they would accept those patients — even though the language in the March 25 guidelines makes no reference to wiggle room.

“If the hospital calls and says, ‘I want to send back a person who had COVID but is now better to the nursing home,’ if the nursing home doesn’t think they can take them they shouldn’t and all they have to do is say ‘no’ and tell the Department of Health, and that person will go somewhere else,” Cuomo said.

“So it really comes down to that nursing home has to know what its limits are, who can provide care for — and who can’t provide care for — and we have alternatives. But we have to get it from that nursing home first,” the governor added.

The March 25 health advisory says all nursing homes “must comply with the expedited receipt of residents returning from hospitals.”