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New NY data shows COVID-19's devastating effect on nursing homes

The A. Holly Patterson Extended Care Facility in

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

COVID-19 has spread rapidly through nursing homes across New York, infecting nearly 4,200 elderly residents considered particularly vulnerable to the virus and killing more than 1,200, according to new state Health Department data.

The staggering figures show a dramatic rise in coronavirus cases and fatalities at state-licensed nursing homes that are home to 100,000 residents.

There are now 4,170 confirmed COVID-19 positive cases at 312 New York nursing homes — more than half of all such facilities — along with 1,231 resident deaths, the data shows. Nearly 30 percent of all nursing home residents who contract COVID-19 eventually die from the virus, the data shows.

In total, more than 17% of the 7,067 New Yorkers to succumb to COVID-19 lived at nursing facilities.

The latest data represents a 606% increase in nursing home cases, and a 1,331% hike in deaths since March 26, when there were 590 cases and 86 deaths. Health Department officials could not provide data on how many Long Island nursing home residents have contracted or died from the virus.

“Ensuring New York’s most vulnerable nursing home population is protected is a priority in addressing the current COVID-19 outbreak and containing the virus,” Health Department spokeswoman Jill Montag said.

At a news conference Wednesday, state Health Department Commissioner Howard Zucker said his office will not identify the location of nursing homes with COVID-19 cases.

"We want to protect privacy of individuals in nursing homes," he said.

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The Long Island nursing home with the largest cluster of fatalities appears to be publicly run, 589-bed A. Holly Patterson Extended Care Facility in Uniondale.

The nursing home has had 24 residents test positive and 17 die from the virus, according to Dr. Anthony Boutin of Nassau University Medical Center, which operates the facility. Three residents died at A. Holly Patterson while 14 died at Nassau University Medical Center, officials said.

"The loss of life from this pandemic is staggering and has rocked Nassau County to its core," said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. "Our deepest condolences go out to the families of everyone we have lost at A. Holly Patterson Extended Care Facility during this tragic and unprecedented time.”

A. Holly Patterson services a high percentage of minority and low-income residents with a host of preexisting medical conditions that may have affected their conditions, one hospital official said.

An aide working at the nursing home died from the virus Tuesday while roughly 80 staffers have either tested positive or are home sick, according to Robert Harris, Civil Service Employees Association unit president for A. Holly Patterson. 

"We are working directly with patients and residents," said Harris, pointing to a lack of masks and inadequate COVID-19 testing of staff. "But we feel forgotten."

The largest reported cluster of COVID-19 cases at a Suffolk nursing home appears to be at Peconic Landing, an upscale Greenport retirement community, which has reported nine deaths. A Peconic spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.

Epidemiologists and medical officials have expressed deep concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes, which are often occupied by hundreds of elderly and seriously ill residents with compromised immune systems — making them easy targets for the highly contagious virus.

Nursing homes have taken extreme measures to lock down the virus — prohibiting visitors, regularly checking staff and residents for fever, and in many locations, requiring residents to spend their days and nights, meals included, in their rooms.

But some contend a state directive requiring nursing homes to accept new and recently discharged hospital patients positive for COVID-19 but considered medically stable could put residents further at risk. The policy stipulates that nursing homes cannot discriminate against hospital patients because they tested positive for the coronavirus.

Dr. Liron Sinvani, director of Geriatric Hospitalist Service at Northwell Health, said nursing home residents are at risk if their facilities have not taken all precautions to handle COVID-19 patients.

“These are not hospitals,” said Sinvani, who studies improving care for hospitalized older adults at the Manhasset-based Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research. “They are not made for the same isolation recommendations as a hospital and the same capabilities. … Putting COVID patients with non-COVID patients if your facility is not completely prepared is really dangerous.”

Pamela Martin said she is terrified that her 87-year-old mother, a resident at Fulton Commons Care Center in East Meadow, will contract the virus. Martin said her mother has had a cough for several days.

While the 280-bed nursing home, which did not respond to requests for comment, has isolated COVID-19 residents who were transferred from hospitals, she is concerned the virus will spread. 

“How could you even think to do this,” said Martin, an East Meadow resident who is battling the virus herself but believes she contracted it long after Fulton Commons closed to visitors. “These are the most vulnerable members of society.”

State officials defend the policy, arguing that it's needed to ensure hospitals have the space to care for patients with acute medical needs.

But Richard Doht, of North Babylon, worries the policy could jeopardize the life of his 93-year-old mother, a resident at Gurwin Jewish Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Commack.

“I can’t comprehend why we aren’t using other [county] facilities that are vacant and can be retrofitted,” said Doht, whose 95-year-old father lives in a nearby assisted-living facility that has lost one resident to the coronavirus. “We can do a better job of this.”

Gurwin Healthcare System chief executive Stuart Almer said while he disagrees with the state directive, he must adhere to it.

“My father happens to be a resident here, a longtime resident here,” said Almer. “I'm just as worried about him as any other family member here.”

In a letter to families dated Tuesday, Almer said "several of our own residents and staff have tested positive over the past several weeks with, sadly, some deaths" but declined to release specific figures.

The virus has infected nursing homes from virtually every part of Long Island, from western Nassau to eastern Suffolk.

Northwell Health operates the Stern Family Center for Rehabilitation in Manhasset on the campus of North Shore University Hospital, and the Orzac Center for Rehabilitation in Valley Stream. Each facility has seen about 25 positive COVID-19 cases, said spokesman Terry Lynam. Two residents at Stern have died from the virus along with another at Orzac, he said.

A total of 40 residents and 14 staffers at the 350-bed Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University have also tested positive, according to an April 8 letter to family members from Fred Sganga, the facility's executive director. Seven veteran residents, each with preexisting medical conditions, have died, the letter states.

"Each of these veterans answered the call to serve our great nation with honor and dignity to protect the freedoms we all enjoy today as Americans," Sganga wrote. 

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