February 27, 2021

Lonnie Listonsmith

Experienced Health Expert

New state numbers raise Capital Region’s facility coronavirus death toll by 58 percent

3 min read

ALBANY — New data published by the state Department of Health this weekend revealed that there were nearly 200 more coronavirus deaths connected to Capital Region long-term care facilities than were previously known.

The data were released after a state Supreme Court justice ordered the state Health Department to fufill a Freedom of Information Law request submitted by the Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscally conservative think tank based in Albany which had filed a lawsuit seeking to compel the state to release the true tally of nursing home deaths in the state.

The state had previously only released the number of deaths that occurred inside the facilities, and not those deaths that occurred after a resident had become ill and was removed from the facility — typically for transfer to a hospital. The practice was criticized as obscuring the true scope of the pandemic’s impact on nursing homes.

As first reported by the Empire Center this weekend, the state published these out-of-facility death counts for nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other adult care facilities in the state on its online COVID-19 dashboard. The deaths were listed both by county and by individual facility, and revealed that 4,067, or 31 percent, of known nursing home deaths in the state occurred outside the facilities.

In the eight-county Capital Region, the data revealed a total of 524 long-term care residents had died due to confirmed or presumed COVID-19 as of Sunday. Among those deaths, 331 occurred inside the facility where the resident fell ill and 193 — or more than a third — occurred outside the facility, such as in a hospital. Nursing home residents account for 450 deaths in the region overall, assisted living facility residents account for 51 deaths, and other adult care facility residents account for 23 deaths.

The addition of out-of-facility death data reveals a 58 percent jump in coronavirus fatalities connected to the region’s long-term care facilities. Notably, a bombshell report released last month by state Attorney General Letitia James estimated the state Health Department was publicly undercounting statewide nursing home deaths by as much as 50 percent.

The new data also reveal that more than half of the region’s known deaths from COVID-19 have originated from long-term care settings. As of Sunday, 955 residents of the eight-county area were known to have died from the disease.

Wesley Health Care Center in Saratoga Springs has the region’s highest known nursing home death toll with 33 residents passing away from coronavirus, according to the state’s figures. Home of the Good Shepherd — also in Saratoga Springs — has the region’s highest known assisted living facility toll with a dozen known coronavirus deaths.

Bill Hammond, senior fellow for health policy at the Empire Center, said in a blog post Saturday that the new disclosures represent only a small fraction of the data the state Health Department has been ordered to release.

“The department has now posted facility-level totals for a single day—Feb. 4—whereas the center requested facility-level numbers for each day of the pandemic,” he wrote.

The department published slightly updated counts on Monday, showing data as of Sunday.

Hammond said the additional detail is necessary to gauge the impact certain events and policies may have had on long-term care facilities, such as the department’s controversial March 25, 2020 guidance which stated nursing homes could not deny admission to residents on the basis of COVID-status alone, nor could they require they be tested for coronavirus prior to admittance.

Nursing homes have said they took this to mean they had to accept COVID-positive patients being discharged from hospitals, and worried it may have introduced the virus into the highly vulnerable settings. The state Health Department last summer released a report that relied on its own incomplete death count to absolve itself of blame for the devastation in long-term care settings.