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State data shows elevated COVID-related deaths in Western New York nursing homes

Poloncarz says the New York State Health Department is in discussions to expand the testing of nursing home residents and staff.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — “It is a big concern. We are very worried.”

That’s what Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Friday about the mounting deaths in Western New York nursing homes from COVID-related illness.

New York State Health Department statistics through April 29 indicate statewide 3,688 nursing home residents died from coronavirus illness. It makes up 20 percent of all COVID-death across the Empire State.

But in the eight counties of Western New York, the nursing home dead make up a much larger percentage of the reported area COVID-deaths. The figure is 37 percent, almost twice the statewide average.

When asked Friday about this disparity, Poloncarz indicted he was well aware.

“It is a concern to the point that I’ve asked our department of health epidemiologists when they get data back showing the cases that are coming in to identify as best as we can are they nursing home residents?" he said. "Are they assisted living residents? Are they residents of a senior apartment complex?”

Credit: WGRZ

2 On Your Side also asked two members of the State Senate Health Committee about the disturbing data.

State Senator Patrick Gallivan of Lancaster noted there have been recent changes in State Health Department mandates.

“They were allowing COVID-positive nursing home staff who are asymptomatic to continue working. They are no longer doing that, which I think is obviously a wise decision,” he said.

Robert Ortt, State Senate from Lockport, called protective measures at nursing homes a glaring weakness in the state’s COVID response.

“I think this is shining a light on underlying problems in a ton of nursing homes where they are understaffed, don’t have the resources, family members can’t get answers and I’m talk about before all this,” Ortt said.

Nursing homes are regulated by state government, but clearly the nursing home fatalities were weighing on the mind of Poloncarz on Friday: “We’ve done additional analysis internally to try to figure out and stem the tide of an outbreak if it should occur.” 

Poloncarz also disclosed there have been discussions involving the state health department about regular testing of nursing home residents and staff.

With two, new, large-scale, drive-through testing sites opening in the region opening this week, there is now unprecedented local ability to offer more aggressive nursing home testing, if state officials require it.

A state health department spokeswoman also points out that there is some concern about the accuracy of the fatality data it has been publishing. Reportedly, some nursing homes are lumping together lab-confirmed COVID deaths with suspected virus fatalities.

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