The A. Holly Patterson Extended Care Facility in Uniondale.

The A. Holly Patterson Extended Care Facility in Uniondale. Credit: Newsday/Tara Conry

In New York, one quarter of the nearly 11,000 people killed by COVID-19 lived in nursing homes, assisted living facilities or group homes, according to State Department data. 

Nursing home operators say they've taken extreme measures to protect their residents from the virus by prohibiting visitors, requiring residents to spend their days and nights in their rooms, and regularly checking staff and residents for fever.

But many family members are questioning whether to keep their loved ones in nursing homes or assisted living facilities or bring them home.

How can you determine if your loved one's facility is safe?

A. AARP, a nonprofit organization for people 50 and older, said families should ask several key questions of nursing home administrators, including the number of COVID-19 cases at their facilities; steps taken to mitigate infections; whether staff have a sufficient supply of masks, face shields, gowns and gloves and if there are any staffing shortages.

“New Yorkers need to communicate with their loved ones in nursing homes on a regular basis and to be aware if the virus is present in the facility,” said Beth Finkel, AARP's New York State director.

The State Health Department said 2,200 nursing home residents have died during the pandemic, including 222 in Nassau County and another 155 in Suffolk. The data also shows 522 COVID-19 deaths among residents of assisted living facilities, including 96 in Nassau and 97 in Suffolk. 

Should family members pull their loved ones from nursing homes or assisted living facilities and provide care at home?

A. Experts say the answer should be decided on a case-by-case basis, determined by two essential factors: the needs of the resident and if those needs can be safely managed at home.

"It comes down to what are their needs and what is the facility providing," said Dr. Maria Carney, chief of geriatrics and palliative medicine at Northwell Health.

Carney said if a resident needs assistance with personal care such as bathing, using a toilet or eating that the family cannot provide at home, then the safest spot could be a skilled nursing home or assisted living facility. But if the resident can be properly cared for at home, and support services are available, bringing a resident home is an "option," Carney said.

"But I think many people are utilizing these facilities because those care needs were not available," she said. 

What are the risks family members take by bringing their loved ones home?

A. Many individuals in long-term care facilities need help getting dressed, eating, using the bathroom, taking medication and getting out of bed. Nursing homes also provide specialized care for individuals with acute health issues such as dementia and Alzheimer's, often beyond what many family members can manage at home, experts say.

At home, some residents will require round-the-clock care, while some will need special hospital beds, handicapped-accessible bathrooms or wheelchair ramps to enter and exit the home, officials said.

And removing a loved one from a nursing home does not insulate them from the virus, said Felicia Pasculli, an elder care attorney with Futterman, Lanza, & Pasculli in Bay Shore who is advising her clients against leaving care facilities.

"There is a chronic shortage of aides, so the caregiver would likely have 24/7 responsibility," she said. "Depending on the circumstances, the loved one may be more vulnerable at home from exposure to younger carriers. The loved one would have to be isolated anyway since most people have not been tested for the virus. Facilities have medical personnel that can act quickly if a patient is in distress."

What do state and county health leaders say about removing residents from nursing homes or assisted living facilities?

A. The Nassau and Suffolk Health Departments have not issued any specific guidance on the topic. 

State Health Department spokeswoman Jill Montag said the decision to remove a relative should be made on a "case-by-case judgment, and physician consultation is a very important part of any such decision. If that decision is made, appropriate home care services should be arranged."