Nursing Home at Coronavirus Epicenter Says 29 Died After Workers Allege Underreporting

Workers at the 227-bed facility also told The New York Times it's possible that as many as 60 residents have died

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A New York City nursing home at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak confirmed Thursday that 29 of its residents have died, but workers at the facility say there are more.

In a statement to NBC News, Michael Balboni, the Executive Director of Greater New York Health Care Facilities Association/Consultant to Sapphire Center, confirmed 29 residents at Sapphire Center, a rehabilitation and nursing facility in Flushing, Queens, died between March 1 and April 15.

"Within that timetable if it is 29 dead it is a tragedy and everyone is a life but during a pandemic like this it would not be an aberration," he said. "It is a very trying time for a long term facility."

However, workers at the 227-bed facility told The New York Times it's possible that as many as 60 residents have died.

Balboni insisted that PPEs are not an issue, adding that the New York City Department of Health officials were at the center on Thursday and found no issues.

"As stunning and shocking as these numbers are we will see more of this at assisted living facilities. This is a cruel disease the targets the elderly and the infirm," Balboni continued.

The Times first reported Thursday that residents' family members were worried about their loved ones due to the lack of information they've received from the center's administrator.

Local assemblyman Ron Kim says that family members reached out to him to find out what's going on because they cannot get in contact with their loved ones. The nursing home is short-staffed and they lack personal protective equipment, Kim said.

"They deserve to know their families are being kept safe and they are practicing social distance, they're being tested. These are lives where every second count inside these nursing homes," Kim said.

The problem is not unique to this nursing facility. The largest increase in nursing home deaths was in New York state, where the death count soared from 1,330 last week to 3,060, as of Wednesday, a state health spokeswoman told NBC News. That means that 2.3 percent of the estimated 131,000 New York residents who live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities have died from the coronavirus so far.

"Determining the actual numbers of dead as well as who had COVID is never easy during a pandemic because determining cause of death with the elderly is difficult due to other pre-existing conditions which includes co-morbidities," Balboni said.

In the neighboring state of New Jersey, the coronavirus has spread to more than 95% of the state’s 375 long-term care facilities, according to state health officials. Earlier this week, police found 17 bodies inside a small morgue at the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center in Sussex County.

On Gov. Phil Murphy announced Thursday that the attorney general will be looking into the staggering number of deaths.

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