State Assembly Members Turn to Biden for Nursing Home-Related COVID-19 Death Data

A resident at Hamilton Park Nursing and Rehabilitation in the Brooklyn borough of New York City receives the coronavirus vaccine from Walgreens pharmacists Jan. 4, 2021. (Photo: CNS/Yuki Iwamura, Reuters)

WINDSOR TERRACE — Two New York Assembly members have already written to President Joe Biden, seeking his assistance to obtain data on nursing home deaths caused by COVID-19 in the state.

Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order on March 25 that mandated nursing homes had to admit recovering COVID-19 patients. The order, which was reversed on May 10, intended to free up hospital beds, as hundreds were dying every day during the height of the pandemic.

As of Jan. 18, 2021, New York’s Department of Health (DOH) recorded 8,671 confirmed and presumed reported COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities — which includes nursing homes and adult care facilities. Of the 8,671 reported deaths, 8,469 have been attributed to those in nursing homes. However, the DOH has only recorded the number of seniors who have passed away in nursing homes — excluding deaths outside those facilities, such as the hospitals they were transferred to.

Assembly Members Kevin Byrne (R-Westchester) and Ron Kim (D-Queens) wrote a bipartisan letter to Biden on Jan. 19 to make the appeal. Their letter noted that fellow state assembly members presented former President Trump the same request in mid-December 2020 as a “last-ditch effort,” which was also ignored by his administration.

“To date, the New York State Department of Health has not answered requests from lawmakers, families and good government groups to release this crucial information, as required by the Freedom of Information Law,” Byrne and Kim wrote. “It is our strong belief you have the executive power as president to have the Center for Disease Control mandate the necessary retrospective reporting which would make this information public without further delay.”

The Assembly members also included copies of Fall 2020 correspondence with the Center for Disease Control — in which a group of 24 state legislators wrote to CDC Director Robert Redfield, requesting the agency “update its rules to require nursing homes to employ retrospective reporting of resident deaths.”

The current CDC requirement does not mandate this type of reporting for deaths that occurred before May.

They called the CDC’s response back “unsatisfactory” as the agency reiterated its existing rules and did not address or answer the legislators’ request for a mandate update.

Byrne and Kim concluded their letter to Biden, saying: “New York families have been seeking this information to get answers, so they can heal from the destruction this virus has caused. We ask your administration’s support of this bipartisan request and to ensure this important information is made publicly available as soon as possible.”