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Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said the introduction of coronavirus in a nursing home setting is like “an ember in dry grass.” What if state policy actually lit the match?

Citing “an urgent need to expand hospital capacity in New York,” the State Health Department on March 25 ordered nursing homes to accept “medically stable” confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients. The health department directive even barred nursing homes from requiring a COVID-19 test prior to admission or readmission to the home.

“No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the NH solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19,” the directive said. “NHs are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission,” it read.

The health department said it was issuing the March 25 directive “to clarify expectations for nursing homes receiving residents returning from hospitalization and for NHs accepting new admissions.”

“Early on, it was clear that the concerns of long-term care providers were not fully recognized,” said Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association and the New York State Center for Assisted Living.

“Outbreaks are not the result of inattentiveness or a shortcoming in our facilities,” Hanse said.

Today, deaths in long-term care facilities account for 26% of COVID fatalities in the state, according to data released by the state earlier this week.

State officials have not provided any explanation for the outbreak in nursing homes, other than to say nursing home residents are extremely vulnerable to the most serious effects of COVID-19 and congregate living facilities are extremely efficient settings for viral spread.

Nor have state officials provided information about what specific steps the state took to prevent COVID outbreaks from taking root in nursing homes or to control them in those settings once they occurred.

“Given the highly contagious nature of this virus, requiring medically stable COVID-19 positive or suspected patients be admitted from hospitals to nursing homes created considerable concerns and appeared to demonstrate a lack of appreciation of the incredible susceptibility of our residents to this virus,” Hanse said.

“The very nature of long-term care is a high-touch environment where social distancing is not an option. Staff are helping residents with bathing, dressing, eating and other personal daily needs,” he said.

New York State today released partial data on COVID-19 fatalities at individual long-term care facilities in the state, showing that some nursing homes on Long Island and in New York City have lost dozens of residents to the disease.

The data, which officials said reflected deaths as of April 15, accounted for only 1,129 deaths of nursing home residents —  slightly more than one-third of the 3,060 deaths in nursing homes and adult care facilities reported as of April 14, according to data previously released by the state. Facilities that have had five or fewer deaths were omitted from the list “for privacy reasons,” State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said today.

In all, the list included 68 of the state’s 619 licensed nursing homes and three of the state’s 552 adult care homes. Only a handful of the facilities on the list are located outside the downstate region.

State officials declined to release any information about COVID outbreaks or fatalities in nursing homes until this week. On Tuesday, they released nursing home/adult care facility deaths by county as of April 12. With the release of that information, it became clear that the coronavirus crisis in New York’s nursing homes — especially those in NYC/Long Island epicenter of the pandemic — was more serious and more deadly than had previously been publicly acknowledged by officials.

“In light of this data, it is absolutely critical that the state ensures that long-term care providers, residents and staff be designated as a top priority with staffing, PPE and testing in order to safeguard our most vulnerable citizens and the men and women who provide essential care,” Hanse said.

“While the focus has often been on hospitals, the residents and staff of nursing homes and assisted living facilities are truly on the front lines of the battle against this virus,” he said.

NYS Dept of Health directiv… by RiverheadLOCAL on Scribd

Individual nursing home fatality data

Eight Suffolk County nursing homes reported more than five deaths, according to the state. They were:
Luxor Nursing and Rehabilitation at Sayville – 6 deaths
Peconic Landing at Southold – 6
Good Samaritan Nursing & Rehabilitation Care Center – 10
Island Nursing and Rehab Center – 10
Our Lady of Consolation Nursing & Rehabilitative Care Center – 15
Luxor Nursing & Rehabilitation at Mills Pond – 21
Apex Rehabilitation & Care Center – 26
Carillon Nursing and Rehabilitation Center – 29

Peconic Landing has publicly reported nine resident deaths to date. Five residents died at local hospitals and four died at the facility, according to Peconic Landing press releases. The governor’s press office did not respond to a request for explanation of the discrepancy.

Some nursing homes in New York City have been particularly hard hit, according to the data. Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn topped the list with 55 COVID casualties. Kings Harbor Multicare Center in the Bronx reported 45 deaths; Franklin Center in Queens and Carmel Richmond on Staten Island each reported 44 deaths.

Although Zucker said today an updated list of long-term care fatalities by county would be posted to the state website this afternoon, no update has yet been posted. Instead the previous county-specific long-term care fatality report was replaced by the partial rundown of deaths at individual nursing homes. The state did not respond to a request for clarification of the availability of the county-breakdown data going forward.

NY Nursing Home COVID-19 Fa… by RiverheadLOCAL on Scribd

NYS COVID Nursing Home Deat… by RiverheadLOCAL on Scribd

Editor’s note: After publication, New York State Department of Health updated its COVID-tracker website to include the data on overall COVID deaths in long-term care facilities, including a breakdown by county. The data, current as of April 15, show 3,316 deaths in long-term care facilities — 28.6% of the state’s total 11,586 COVID deaths. The data can be found here.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.