Deaths in New York nursing homes and assisted living reach nearly 15,000. Here's where.

Joseph Spector
New York State Team

ALBANY - Just a few weeks ago, the state Department of Health reported that about 9,150 people had died of COVID-19 in long term care facilities in New York since the pandemic struck.

Now, after a blistering report from the state Attorney General's Office and a successful lawsuit seeking additional data, the full scope of deaths associated with nursing homes and assisted living facilities is more clear.

In all, New York had 14,958 confirmed or presumed COVID deaths as of Sunday in nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and adult-care places — either in the facilities themselves or at hospitals, a review by the USA TODAY Network New York found.

The new data released over the weekend addressed the criticism that the state was undercounting its death toll of nursing home residents. It added deaths from long-term care facilities that occurred after residents were transferred to hospitals.

Until Attorney General Letitia James' report Jan. 28, the state refused to release statistics that showed how many people who lived in the facilities died in hospitals — counting them as hospital deaths, not as ones from nursing homes or other elder facilities.

State officials have stressed the total number of deaths statewide hasn't changed, just how they are accounted for, and it was taking a long time to get an accurate count.

Still, the publicly reported death count of the long-term care facilities' residents is up 63% since James' report.

The new figures also increase the percentage of deaths associated with the homes as compared to the total COVID fatalities in New York, which as of Sunday were 44,838 confirmed or presumed deaths. The state has the most COVID deaths in the nation.

In all, deaths in the various long-term facilities accounted for 33% of the state's confirmed COVID deaths, the analysis found. But in small counties, they represented the large majority of all their deaths.

Of the total confirmed and presumed deaths in long-term care facilities, 13,218 were in nursing homes, 794 were in assisted living and 946 were in other adult-care facilities.

Health Commissioner Howard Zucker has argued in recent weeks that even with deaths at hospitals counted as nursing home deaths, New York still ranked below the national average of about 35%. And state officials Tuesday said nursing homes and other facilities have different roles and their death toll shouldn't be added together.

If just confirmed nursing home deaths are included, which were about 10,200 as of Sunday, they represented about 29% of New York's confirmed death count of nearly 36,000.

"For context," Zucker said in statement after James' report, "states with many fewer total deaths had a similar number of nursing home related deaths."

More:Courts, lawmakers pressure Andrew Cuomo for more data on COVID in nursing homes

More:New COVID-19 cases plummet 28% in New York, but U.K. variant rises. Here's where

Criticism continues over nursing home deaths

Marti Mauro of Webster looks to see if her mom, Dottie Langenstein who lives at Heathwood Assisted Living & Memory Care in Penfield has come into the room yet on January 16, 2021.

How the state counted the deaths in nursing homes and other facilities continues to draw criticism from Democrats and Republicans, who have called for legislative hearings to further examine the state's COVID response.

“The Attorney General’s report on nursing homes set off a chain of events that has left the Executive Branch in a deep scandal of their own making," charged Sen. Thomas O'Mara, R-Big Flats, Chemung County.

New York struggled early on in the pandemic last spring with containing the virus in nursing homes.

The factors are myriad, James' report found, such as inadequate equipment and staff, lack of safety protocols to properly segregate infected resident and workers being implored to come to work even if they tested positive for COVID.

Cuomo was also knocked for a late March order that let hospitals return patients with COVID to the nursing homes, a measure that was reversed in May, but one that James' report found followed federal guidelines.

As the death toll across New York rose to 800 a day in April, a sizable portion were in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities, the new records show.

In fact, the majority of deaths in 38 of New York's 62 counties were confirmed cases from nursing homes or other long-term facilities — whether the deaths were in the homes or residents who left and died in hospitals, the new numbers showed.

Most of those counties were rural ones where the virus infiltrated into homes that housed a community's most vulnerable population.

For example, 49 of the 50 confirmed deaths in Seneca County were in nursing homes or assisted living settings, while 51 of the 56 deaths in Tioga County were at those places.

"We have a solemn duty as a society to protect and value aging New Yorkers," Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, D-Pelham, Westchester County, said in a statement.

"Instead, Governor Cuomo and the New York State Department of Health treated our elders as expendable, as if their lives were nothing more than the cost of doing business."

Cuomo and Zucker have defended the handling of deaths in nursing homes, such as New York's rate was still below national averages and that the state was the first hit by the pandemic due to poor federal oversight.

"Everyone did the best they could" as New York was the largest state to be first besieged by COVID last spring," Cuomo said Jan. 29.

"I understand the pain. I understand the search for answers. But it was a tragedy, and I feel the anguish, and I feel the pain, and I get the anger." 

More:Cuomo on nursing home deaths after critical AG report: 'Everyone did the best they could'

More:COVID deaths at NY nursing homes undercounted by 50%. AG probe slams pandemic secrecy, failures

Joseph Spector is the Government and Politics Editor for the USA TODAY Network's Atlantic Group, overseeing coverage in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. He can be reached at or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany

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