New Report Finds Cuomo's Controversial Nursing Home Guidance 'May Have Made a Bad Situation Worse'

A new watchdog report found that a controversial nursing home guidance issued by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo early in the coronavirus pandemic may have led to more than 1,000 additional resident deaths.

The study, conducted by the Albany, New York–based nonprofit Empire Center for Public Policy, focused on the March 25 guidance from the New York State Department of Health requiring nursing homes not to turn away COVID-19 positive patients. The order was preceded by an increase in virus hospitalizations, prompting fear the system would be overrun with COVID patients. The administration revoked the guidance on May 10.

"Statewide, the findings imply that COVID-positive new admissions between late March and early May, which numbered 6,327, were associated with several hundred and possibly more than 1,000 additional resident deaths," the report found.

The center said the data indicated the March 25 memo wasn't the "primary cause" of the high death toll in New York nursing homes, which stood at roughly 13,200 as of February 2021.

"At the same time, the findings contradict a central conclusion of the Health Department's July 6 report on coronavirus in nursing homes, which said, among other things: 'Admission policies were not a significant factor in nursing home fatalities' and 'The data do not show a consistent relationship between admissions and increased mortality,'" the watchdog highlighted.

That July report from the Department of Health placed most of the blame on infected but asymp­tomatic staffers and visitors for the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes. When it was released, Cuomo said the study was an accurate reflection of the spread of the virus in nursing homes.

Overall, the Empire Center for Public Policy concluded that the pandemic "wreaked havoc in nursing homes across the country and around the world, including in jurisdictions that did not adopt policies similar to those in the Cuomo administration's March 25 guidance memo. However, this analysis indicates that the guidance may have made a bad situation worse—and points to the need for further research to determine the best policy before the state faces another pandemic."

Andrew Cuomo watchdog report nursing home deaths
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to members of the state's Electoral College before voting for president and vice president in the state Capitol in Albany, New York, on December 14, 2020. A new watchdog report found Cuomo's nursing home directive may have led to more than 1,000 additional resident deaths during the coronavirus pandemic. Hans Pennink/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

When asked about the report, Cuomo adviser Richard Azzopardi pointed Newsweek to a blog post about the data by John Bacheller. Bacheller, the former head of the policy and research division of Empire State Development, New York's economic development agency, wrote that the "report raises a number of questions" about the data used.

"Without data that shows the strength of association between these variable and COVID death rates in nursing homes we can't understand whether the Health Department policy was strongly related to death rates, or was only weakly related to them," Bacheller wrote.

Dr. Howard Zucker, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health, told Newsweek: "The Empire Center's conclusion that 'the data indicate that the March 25 memo was not the sole or primary cause of the heavy death toll in nursing homes' and that COVID-19 'wreaked havoc in nursing homes across the country and around the world, including in jurisdictions that did not adopt policies similar to the March 25 guidance memo' is consistent with the Department of Health's analysis that found the March 25 guidance was not a driver of COVID infections and fatalities and COVID was introduced to nursing homes primarily through staff and visitors."

Cuomo has come under fire from all sides over his handling of nursing homes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, especially after his administration admitted to withholding data on virus-related deaths out of fear it would be used against the state by the Trump administration.

The FBI and the Eastern District of New York U.S. Attorney's Office have both opened investigations into the matter. The state assembly GOP is also planning to form a Cuomo "impeachment commission" over the nursing home scandal.

The fallout continued on Friday when Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, denied a claim from Cuomo's team that he was one of their chief health advisers.

Update: This story has been updated to include comment from the New York State Department of Health.