Coronavirus News: Lawmakers demand investigation after New York City nursing home allegedly under-reported COVID-19 deaths

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, Manhattan (WABC) -- Elected officials called for an investigation into a nursing home in Manhattan Friday after a news report claimed the facility drastically under reported the number of deaths related to COVID-19 that occurred at the home.

Isabella Geriatric Center, a 705-bed not-for-profit center for rehabilitation and nursing care in Washington Heights, reported just 13 deaths due to coronavirus. But a report by Spectrum News NY1 claimed the number is actually around 100.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat and other elected officials held a news conference outside the facility Friday demanding an investigation and calling for transparency at the nursing home.

Officials also said the city and the state have failed to act appropriately to protect the most vulnerable New Yorkers at senior centers, failing to provide them with the proper equipment, staffing and testing.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who said he has been at the Isabella Geriatric Center and knows the facility and the people who work there, called the deaths "horrifying."

"This is a staggering toll we're hearing about now and I'm shocked" de Blasio said. "The city has for the last, over a month since I believe March 25, we started delivering a really substantial amount of PPE, 12,000 N95s, to that site. This is to me an inestimable loss, its hard to imagine so many people lost in one place."

In a letter posted on the nursing home's website, Chief Operating Officer Loyola Princivil-Barnett said Isabella has been following state and federal guidelines for infection control.

"The numbers that will be announced over the next few days about COVID-related deaths at Isabella will be disturbing," Princivil-Barnett said. "Unfortunately, nursing homes in New York City have not been given access to widespread and consistent in-house testing to quickly diagnose our residents and staff. Sadly, this has hampered our ability to further limit loss of life by swiftly separating anyone with the virus."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned that nursing homes under reporting deaths is a crime and any question about under reported deaths would be reviewed by the state attorney general and the state health department.

"They submit these numbers under penalty of perjury," he said. "You violate, you commit fraud, that is a criminal offense. Period. So they can be prosecuted criminally for fraud on any of these reporting numbers.If they misrepresent it, then you have a criminal fraud case."

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