When AP flagged New York state’s undercount of nursing home deaths during the pandemic, the governor slammed the story. Six months later, the state’s own investigation has vindicated AP’s reporting.

An exclusive AP investigation last August — reporting that New York state was undercounting its nursing home death toll by thousands — was emphatically affirmed this past week with a report from the state attorney general that reached an almost identical conclusion.

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo attends a ceremony at Liberty Park, overlooking the National September 11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan, August 3, 2020.

AP Photo / Mark Lennihan

AP’s initial story by Bernard Condon, New York investigative reporter; Matt Sedensky, New York national writer; and Meghan Hoyer, Washington data editor, had been ripped by Gov. Andrew Cuomo who called it part of a politically motivated “blame game.” But notably, the state’s own investigation was led by Attorney General Letitia James, a fellow Democrat whom Cuomo has previously endorsed.

AP’s investigation had seized on the fact that New York is one of the only states in the nation that counts just residents who died on nursing home property, and not those who were transported to hospitals and died there. What’s more, even though New York acknowledged it keeps a tally of nursing home residents who died in hospitals, it refused for months to divulge that figure to either lawmakers or the media. And that allowed Cuomo to continue to tout that his state’s relatively low nursing home death toll, making it appear his state was doing better than others.

In frequent news conferences and in his promotion of a book about his leadership during the pandemic, Cuomo repeatedly said his state was ranked just 35th in terms of the percentage of nursing home deaths, which showed it was “not just a New York problem.” AP’s 2020 analysis of federal data that included the nursing home residents who died in hospitals indicated that New York’s official toll was actually undercounted by 65%, and it estimated the true count could be an undercount of well over 4,000 deaths.

The New York attorney general’s analysis of a sample of 62 nursing homes indicated an undercount of 56 percent, with some homes showing four times more deaths than the state officially reported. Just hours after the attorney general’s report, the New York health department released long-withheld figures from an ongoing audit of the state’s nursing home deaths, showing the state’s death toll was actually 12,743, at least 4,000 deaths higher than what has been officially released.

Albany statehouse reporter Marina Villeneuve, along with Condon and Sedensky, reported the breaking news of the state attorney general’s probe and the state’s surprising acknowledgement of its numbers.

The state arrived at the same number of uncounted nursing home deaths that AP had reported — at least 4,000.

Their story, with prominent mention of AP’s previous reporting, was the top story on the AP News app on a busy Thursday and also garnered an impressive 50,800 engagements on Facebook. CNN cited AP’s original break.

For sharp reporting that led the media pack, withstood criticism from the governor and months later was vindicated, this week’s Best of the States goes to Condon, Sedensky and Hoyer (now data director at The Washington Post).

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