Large discrepancy in Steuben County nursing home deaths reported by New York State

Corning Bureau

(WETM) – The New York State Department of Health is reporting 19 fewer COVID-19 deaths in Steuben County nursing homes compared to the amount provided by the Steuben County Public Health Department.

To date, Steuben County has reported 26 nursing home deaths and 35 total deaths at three nursing homes: Hornell Gardens, Fred and Harriett Taylor Nursing Center, and Elderwood at Hornell.

A document provided by the New York State Department of Health indicates only seven COVID-19 related deaths in Steuben County nursing homes with no facilities reporting more than five deaths.

The data on this page has updated information on nursing home and adult care facilities COVID-19 deaths broken down by county as well as facility. The facility data are numbers provided by nursing homes and adult care facilities of confirmed and, in some cases, presumed COVID-19 fatalities that occurred at each specific facility. Any nursing homes or adult care facilities reporting fewer than five fatalities are excluded for privacy purposes. The county level information includes nursing home and adult care facilities residents who died at nursing homes, assisted living facilities or hospitals.

Jill Montag, Public Information Officer, New York State Department of Health

After a follow-up request, an additional statement was provided explaining the nursing home data collection.

DOH is providing facility-specific and county level aggregate data provided to us as part of a daily census report from more than 600 nursing homes and 500 adult care facilities.  In addition to working with facilities to address patient care and safety, infection control practices, and equipment and staffing needs, we also implemented a new data collection system to expedite current and retrospective data to assist facilities with reporting – an unprecedented action and something we got done in the middle of the worst public health crisis in a century.  This crisis and our response to it continues to evolve, and the unprecedented amount and specificity of data we are providing to the public will continue to evolve with it.

Jill Montag, Public Information Officer, New York State Department of Health

18 News requested additional information from the New York State Department of Health through the Freedom of Information Law, but were told “information regarding any nursing home reporting five or less deaths is not posted on the Tracker pursuant to Public Officers Law §87(2)(b), because disclosure ‘would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy'” and were referred back to the New York State COVID-19 tracker

On April 17, the Associated Press reported incorrect information being offered by New York State regarding nursing home deaths. To date, 3,010 nursing home deaths have been reported by New York State.

Steuben County Public Health Director Darlene Smith confirms that the numbers reported by New York State are incorrect.

We can confirm there are many more than 6 nursing home deaths.  Tragically, our tracking indicates 24 nursing home related deaths.  SDOH is either behind on their reporting or they are receiving inaccurate data from facilities.  It is definitely hard to keep up with all the data requests and information management.

Darlene Smith, Steuben County Public Health Director.

Public Health Director Smith later amended her statement, saying she is “confident in listing 26 deaths” connected to nursing homes in Steuben County.

All 26 nursing home deaths have been accounted for in press releases issued by the county.

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According to New York State Law, nursing homes must report incidents within 24 hours.

Chuck Hayes, Vice President of Marketing & Communications for Elderwood, tells 18 News that Elderwood at Hornell has reported four deaths to the New York State Department of Health.

I can confirm that Elderwood at Hornell has reported to state and county officials a total of four (4) COVID-19 related deaths. Three occurred at the facility, while one resident passed at the hospital.

Chuck Hayes, Vice President, Marketing & Communications, Elderwood

Arnot Health tells 18 News that eight COVID-19 deaths have occurred at the Fred and Harriett Taylor Health Center at the Ira Davenport Hospital campus.

There have been 8 COVID-19 related deaths at the Ira Davenport Memorial Hospital SNF/HRF (the official name; the facility is located in the Fred and Harriett Taylor Health Center, adjoining the hospital), that we have reported to the Steuben County Public Health throughout the course of this pandemic.   As with any resident that passes away while in our care, we are saddened by these losses and have extended our condolences to their family and friends.

Ken Roberts
System Director
Marketing, Communications & Community Relations

Additional information from Arnot Health’s statement can be found here.

18 News has reached out to Hurlbut Care Communities, who operates Hornell Gardens, and were directed to a statement from CEO Robert Hurlbut on the company’s website.

I am a fierce advocate for resident dignity and privacy rights and am vehemently against releasing any information that would jeopardize it. The recently enacted HERDS survey, mandated by New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) requires nursing homes to not only submit the number of test positive COVID-19 cases and fatalities, which we are complying with, but also the gender, race and initials of those individuals. The latter information directly violates The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, which regulates the sharing of Personal Health Information (PHI).

We have sent NYSDOH several requests for assurances that this confidential information would be protected, with no response. We will continue to comply with all HERDS survey requirements, but I will also continue to speak out against this blatant and egregious disregard for federal law and American citizen’s legal rights to protect their personal information.

If you are as upset about this as I am, please join me in calling on the Governor to express your concerns – (518) 474-8390 or online at http://www.governor.ny.gov/contact.

Robert Hurlbut, CEO

A video was also provided on the company’s website.

In mid-April, Hurlbut and Steuben County coordinated to transported Hornell Gardens residents who did not test positive for the virus to another Hurlbut facility in Waterloo.

Three Hornell Garden residents who first tested negative and were moved to the facility in Waterloo later tested positive. They have since been transported back to Hornell Gardens, according to the county.

On April 24, the county said they are not calling for any investigations, at this time, into any nursing facilities. They also do not currently have any specific requests out to New York State.

Steuben County Manager Jack Wheeler said that the county was adamant about not allowing any staff who tested positive but were asymptomatic to work with other residents who tested positive.

Comprehensive testing has been completed at all three facilities, as well as the Bath VA where no deaths have been reported, according to the county.

Seventy-four percent of Steuben County’s COVID-19 deaths to date have been nursing home residents.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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