A week ago, the Attorney General for New York, Letitia James, issued a report on COVID-19 in nursing homes, which stated that nursing home and hospital data underreported nursing home resident deaths by at least 50%. According to the AG’s report, actual deaths from the Coronavirus at 62 nursing homes was 1,914, compared to the 1,220 reported to and by state health officials. Not only did the New York AG find undercounting, but the report also cited nursing homes for insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE), inadequate testing, lack of compliance from nursing homes requiring family members to be able to communicate with residents.
The 76-page report is damning in many ways, but it fails to provide a clear answer as to the central question: Why?
Why would nursing homes undercount deaths? Why would nursing homes fall short of supplying PPE? Why would nursing homes fail to test? Why would nursing homes not allow a family to communicate with residents?
Based on our firm’s work for families who have suffered injuries, death, and malpractice at the hands of unscrupulous nursing home corporate operators for the past 20 years, we believe the answer to all of the above questions is simple: Greed.
Some more reasons why Nursing Home Covid-19 Deaths are being under reported
Nursing home data are reported to a central CMS database (medicare.gov/care-compare), which attempts to rank and rate them according to self-reported criteria. When nursing homes report problems, their scores drop, which means that they come under scrutiny from regulators, and they have a harder time attracting new residents. Issues that aren’t reported as problems magically make numbers go up. Saying that lots of residents died does just the opposite. Therefore, if residents die from ‘natural causes,’ they won’t get reviewed, but if a family has an outbreak of Coronavirus, and there are deaths, the regulators will (or should) start asking questions.
By the same token, when nursing homes fail to purchase enough PPE to protect residents and staff, they roll the dice and hope that infections don’t become widespread. Money saved on staf training and proper equipment flows straight to the operators’ bottom line. So the incentive is always to cut corners, especially if they think no one is looking.
Sadly, there are not enough people and agencies monitoring and observing every nursing home, skilled nursing facility, and rehabilitation center to keep the administrators honest. Inevitably, when problems crop up, and residents suffer, it falls to family members to report incidents of neglect, abuse, and fraud to state and federal government agencies. Too often, the facilities themselves will try to cover up mistakes and, worse still, continue operating their businesses in sub-marginal ways. Who suffers? Nursing home staff are overworked and underpaid. Nursing home residents risk their lives every day because the facilities to which they have entrusted their golden years work systematically exploit them.
We hope this article helps better explain why nursing home covid-19 deaths are under reported and why it matters.
York Law Firm supports the initiatives put forward by CANHR, an organization that advocates for residents in long-term care facilities who are helpless victims of incompetence and greed. We encourage families of residents to join CANHR and fight back against injustice.
Attorney Wendy York of York Law Firm specializes in prosecuting elder abuse and wrongful death cases in California. For further information, please contact Wendy York here.