While data released by New York state Monday indicated nearly half of Erie County’s COVID-19 deaths were nursing home residents, County Executive Mark Poloncarz says nursing homes residents likely account for closer to one third of the county’s total deaths.
The New York State Department of Health reported Monday that 29 nursing home residents had died of COVID-19 in Erie County as of Sunday, while Erie County officials reported having 61 total deaths as of Sunday.
However, Poloncarz said during his Wednesday afternoon press briefing that the county had been unaware of some of the nursing home deaths when factoring its total deaths. That’s because nursing homes are not required to report COVID-19 deaths directly to the county, only to the state Department of Health, Poloncarz said.
“Some nursing homes were reporting to the state,” he said. “Others appeared to not really report deaths that occurred late Saturday and Sunday because of the Easter holiday and they came in on Monday. But we believe we’re all caught up and we’re matched right up with New York state now on the numbers.”
Officially, according to Poloncarz Wednesday afternoon, the county has 101 total COVID-19 deaths, 35 of which were nursing home residents. He added that only 31 of the 35 deceased nursing home residents were technically county residents.
“It’s basically been about 30 percent,” he said.
The state has since updated its nursing home death data to show that Erie County has 40 total nursing home deaths. It was not immediately clear Wednesday evening how this changes what percentage of the county’s total deaths were nursing homes residents.
Erie County isn’t the only Western New York county to experience discrepancies with its number of nursing home deaths.
The state reported Monday that Niagara County had three nursing home deaths and three adult care facility deaths caused by COVID-19, despite the fact Niagara County officials at the time reported only five total deaths countywide.
Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Rebecca Wydysh said Tuesday that only one of the county’s five known deaths were related to a nursing home or adult care facility.
“What we're hoping is the state is able to figure out a way to report those situations to us in an accurate way, so that we can keep these discrepancies out of the picture and give you a true and accurate number here in Niagara County,” Wydysh said.
Wyoming County was originally reported as having 30 adult care facility deaths in the state’s data Monday. After WBFO pointed out Wyoming County has reported only three total deaths, the state changed its data to show zero adult care facility residents had died in Wyoming County.
The discrepancies may only increase calls for the state to be more transparent. Organizations like Buffalo’s Center for Elder Law and Justice argue the state should disclose both the number of COVID-19 deaths and total cases at individual nursing homes.
Thus far the state has only disclosed the number of nursing home deaths in each county. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has argued releasing nursing home-specific numbers would violate HIPAA, the federal government's health privacy law.
However, some question whether this is true. Plus, a member of the state’s COVID-19 task force said Tuesday that the state would identify which nursing homes have cases in the future, according to USA Today.
Poloncarz said Wednesday it would “be helpful and beneficial” if nursing homes reported COVID-19 deaths directly to the county.
Poloncarz, who is currently being sued by nursing homes for allegedly overreaching his authority on them in regards to Ruthie’s Law, acknowledged that the county does not “have the power with regards to nursing homes that we’d like in most areas.”
“We do have some power,” he added, “but New York state controls nursing homes and they're the ones that decide how they’re going to show that data. So unless New York state changes it, I don’t expect to get that data directly from nursing homes.”