Local skilled nursing facility deaths: Deep dive into the numbers

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- The debate over COVID-19 related deaths at skilled nursing facilities in New York and the methods state agencies used to report them continues to unfold. Politicians are calling for further investigation as new allegations of a cover-up regarding skilled nursing facility deaths play out.

What is considered a skilled nursing facility? Skilled nursing facilities include nursing homes, adult-care, and assisted living facilities.

The state has since modified its reporting of COVID-19 related deaths at skilled nursing facilities to include deaths that occurred in hospitals as well as the actual facility. A running total is available through the Department of Health’s (DOH) COVID-19 tracker.

It’s this running total that makes it challenging to get a clear picture of COVID-19 related deaths in skilled nursing facilities prior to the inclusion of residents that died in the hospital. Even so, in the fall NEWS10 reported on the number of skilled nursing facility COVID-related deaths in the Capital Region.

Below, problems with the state’s initial reporting and why the N.Y. Attorney General Office (AG) said the state “undercounted” as many as 50% of COVID-related deaths in skilled nursing facilities can be seen more clearly by looking at local county information.

The first graph shows the number of COVID-related nursing facility deaths reported by the DOH as of September 12, 2020. In the second graph, the number of reported skilled nursing facility deaths is compared to the total number of nursing facility residents.

There was no difference in the number of deaths reported in facilities by the DOH in September and the number of deaths reported in the updated report released by the state Wednesday. The only difference is the newer numbers include the number of residents that died in hospitals.

To calculate the percentage of error in nine Capital Region counties and discover how close it was to the AG’s claim of 50% statewide inaccuracy, NEWS10 took the difference between the number of nursing facility deaths initially reported, turned it into a percentage, and subtracted that number from 100.

For example: In Albany County, the number of reported nursing facility deaths as of September 12 was 63 or 74% of 85, the total number of nursing facility resident deaths putting the percentage of error at 26%.

The average percentage of error for all nine counties was 39%, less than the AG’s statewide calculation. The average was brought down by Warren and Washington Counties. There was no difference in the number of reported facility/hospital deaths for Washington County and for Warren County the difference amounted to 16.6%.

Schenectady County had the highest percentage of error where initially, DOH reported two deaths as of mid-September. When skilled nursing facility residents who died in the hospital are included the number shoots up almost 82% to 11.

Outside of Schenectady, Warren, and Washington Counties, the percentage of error in Albany, Columbia, Fulton, Greene, Montgomery, and Rensselaer Counties is between 26% and 54.5%.

Percentage of error by county

  • Albany 26%
  • Columbia 42.4%
  • Fulton 45.8%
  • Greene 54.5%
  • Montgomery 40%
  • Rensselaer 43%
  • Schenectady 81.8%
  • Warren 16.6%
  • Washington no difference

The third graph shows the number of nursing facility residents that died in facilities (blue), the number of nursing facility residents that died in hospitals (yellow), and the total number of nursing facility residents that died (green).

The deaths technically weren’t undercounted because they were reported by the hospital they died in. But, they weren’t included in the reported deaths from the DOH which would have painted a bleaker portrait of the vulnerability of nursing facility residents.

NEWS10 contacted the DOH for comment on this story but did not get a response before publication.

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