By Josefa Velasquez, Yoav Gonen and Ann Choi. Additional Reporting By Ese Olumhense, Originally published in THE CITY.
An inventory of COVID-19 deaths at New York nursing homes released by the Cuomo administration Friday provides an incomplete picture of how dire the situation is inside the facilities, medical workers and elected officials said.
The long sought-after list of nursing homes and adult care facilities whose residents have died of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 only accounts for one-third of the 3,316 such deaths reported statewide as of Wednesday.
That’s because the new data excludes deaths of residents who were transferred to hospitals — and, in some cases, doesn’t report fatalities thought to be COVID-related where formal virus tests weren’t conducted. The state’s data sheet says only “some” nursing homes reported the number of “presumed” COVID-19 deaths.
Only one-fifth of the city’s 171 nursing homes were identified by name in the latest state data. Of them, nine reported 30 or more deaths stemming from COVID-19.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo acknowledged that the information might be incomplete since nursing homes self-report the deaths that occurred in their facilities to the state.
“We only know what they tell us,” Cuomo told reporters in Albany.
But City Council member Mark Treyger (D-Brooklyn) said a lack of widespread testing at nursing homes is deflating the number of known patient fatalities because not every nursing home is reporting deaths where there wasn’t a confirmed positive.
The testing deficit also is clearing the path for introducing the virus from outside — because asymptomatic staff members have been allowed and even encouraged to work, he noted.
Treyger said he’s been hearing a host of concerns about nursing homes in southern Brooklyn, and called on the city and state to come up with an action plan to ensure adequate levels of staffing, protective equipment and testing kits.
“I believe the situation at nursing homes is much worse than what’s being reported to the public,” said Treyger.
“If a nursing home doesn’t have the ability to test, they’re not confirming virus cases and they’re not reporting them to the state of New York,” he added. “That’s why I think whatever is being reported to the state is not fully complete.”
Bensonhurst Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Brooklyn reported 34 deaths, or 17% of residents, the highest share among the city’s nursing homes, according to the state’s latest data.
Officials at the rehabilitation center didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Five other nursing homes have reported that more than 10% of their residents have died of the virus: Carmel Richmond Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Staten island; Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn; Franklin Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing; Holliswood Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare; and Sapphire Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Queens.
The release of the limited data comes as nursing home employees and residents’ relatives are expressing concerns over how the virus has been ravaging facilities filled with elderly and often ailing residents.
Workers at the Ozanam Hall nursing home in Bayside, Queens, told THE CITY that more than 50 residents have died from what appears to be COVID-19, overwhelming the facility’s morgue to the point that bodies lay in rooms waiting for pickup. Yet the number of fatalities attributed to the virus by the nursing home was nine, according to the state data.
Jim Malatras, one of Cuomo’s top advisors, said that fatality rates in nursing homes that were excluded from the list would be added on a daily basis as updated reports come in.
Nursing home and adult care facilities where fewer than five people have died from confirmed or suspected COVID-19 were excluded from the round-up “for privacy purposes.”
Nearly 700 Dead
In New York City, 688 nursing home and adult care residents had died in three dozen facilities as of Wednesday, the state nursing home fatality data shows.
That amount is far fewer than the 2,053 residents who reportedly succumbed to coronavirus in city nursing homes, adult care centers and hospitals, according to a state breakdown of deaths by county provided the same day.
The state data doesn’t include information on 784 “probable” coronavirus deaths counted by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene as of April 15 — found by the Office of the City Medical Examiner to have died of COVID-19-related or equivalent causes in nursing homes and hospices.
More than 8% of 40,000 nursing home residents in New York City have tested positive for COVID-19 as of April 15, according to THE CITY’s analysis of data released by the state late Friday. But it’s unclear how many residents have been tested.
Manhattan nursing homes lead the rate of infection among nursing home residents, with 123 positive cases for 1,000 individuals — about 60% higher than the rest of the city. Staten Island had the lowest rate with 46 positive cases per 1,000 residents.
Queens, however, saw the highest fatality rate, with 53 deaths per 1,000 nursing home residents.
As of April 15th, New York City nursing homes had 3,412 positive COVID-19 cases, according to the state Department of Health — comprising roughly half of the positive cases in such facilities statewide.
State officials have not released the number of positive COVID-19 cases in individual nursing homes, but anticipate publishing that information in the coming days, according to the governor’s aides.
Officials at ArchCare, which operates the Carmel Richmond Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center on Staten Island, said while they welcomed the state’s attempt to shed light on nursing home performance, they believed the focus on lives lost was misleading.
They said their network of five nursing homes, which is affiliated with the Archdiocese of New York, has been vigilant about testing patients for COVID-19 and about identifying the virus as the cause of death when applicable. Other nursing homes, they said, might appear to have lower fatality rates simply because their patients haven’t been tested.
The state data listed Carmel as logging 44 COVID-19 deaths, among the highest in the state.
ArchCare officials also noted that nursing homes have been relegated to “secondary status” behind hospitals when it comes to the allocation of personal protective equipment — an issue CEO Scott LaRue has been sounding the alarm over since early on in the crisis.
“On their own, these figures do not accurately reflect the overall quality of care a facility provides or its diligence in trying to control the infection,” ArchCare said in a statement.
Missing From the List
A nurse at Workmen’s Circle MultiCare Center in The Bronx — which was not on the list of nursing homes with fatalities provided by state officials Friday — told THE CITY six patients in one unit out of 12 died over the past week.
The licensed nurse practitioner is overseeing 45 patients per shift at the Eastchester long-term adult care facility — with about one-quarter of them sick and showing symptoms of COVID-19, the nurse said.
“It’s very stressful. When they’re sick, it’s very hard to know, who do you go to first? How closely can you actually monitor those people?” said the nurse, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Adding to the stress of an overstretched staff is the shortage of protective equipment, said the nurse. Staffers were provided with patient gowns to wear in lieu of medical gowns, according to a nursing assistant.
The nursing assistant said staff members move regularly from units with COVID patients to those thought to be virus-free, even as they continue to wear the same protective gear.
’I Just Cry’
Both employees said a nurse supervisor at the facility died this week from the coronavirus, but that management hadn’t yet formally informed the staff.
“It’s very upsetting,” the Workmen’s Circle nurse practitioner said. “Sometimes I go home after a shift and I just cry because it’s so sad.”
An email to two officials at the facility wasn’t answered.
At Hebrew Home in Riverdale, one of the largest nursing homes in New York, employees said as many as 45 residents of the facility had died between mid-March and April 7, though it’s unclear whether all the deaths were related to the virus. The nursing home did not appear on the state’s list.
Workers who spoke to THE CITY on the condition of anonymity say at least 17 staff members at Hebrew Home, most of them clinical employees, have tested positive for the virus.
The facility’s leadership declined to share the number of its residents who have died from the virus.
One employee at Hebrew Home noted the nursing home wasn’t testing residents. Instead, they were being sent to hospitals for testing once seriously ill, or “at death’s door,” the employee said.