Voices for Seniors held a rally at Kennedy Plaza in Long Beach on Saturday to demand answers and reform regarding the way their loved ones were treated in nursing homes during the pandemic. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

More than a dozen protesters stood in front of Long Beach City Hall on Saturday seeking nursing home reforms on visitation policies, admission of COVID-19 patients and proper care and treatment of elderly patients during the pandemic.

Demonstrators with the nonprofit group, Voices for Seniors, called on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state legislators to take additional measures to protect seniors from COVID-19, monitor their care and allow family members access to visit their loved ones in nursing homes and adult rehabilitation facilities.

"Maybe some people think we’ll go away but we’re still speaking up because our seniors deserve it," Voices for Seniors co-founder Vivian Zayas of Deer Park, said.

Zayas said she lost her mother April 1 after she tested positive at a West Islip facility. She said her mother was undergoing physical therapy when she was infected with the virus and died after she was transferred to the ICU.

Organizers criticized a March 25 state directive that allowed nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients if they had adequate care, personal protective equipment and staffing. The guidance stated, "no resident shall be denied admission solely because of COVID positive status," but did not require those patients to be admitted.

Protesters held a banner that said, "Cuomo, how many seniors died?"

State officials said the state Health Department was following CDC guidance and a report in July indicated COVID-19 was already present in more than 300 facilities, or 98% of nursing facilities from community spread or asymptomatic staff members before COVID-19 patients were admitted.

"This pandemic, while sadly still being politicized, is far from over. The Department continues to assist facilities statewide that are currently managing COVID-19 clusters and preparing for a second wave," Health Department spokesman Gary Holmes said in an email Saturday. "Our decisions will continue to be driven by data and science, and now is not the time for anybody to let their guard down. While we understand the challenges this pandemic has caused nursing home residents and their families, the state remains committed to protecting nursing home residents and front line workers from this unforgiving virus."

Assemb. Missy Miller (R-Atlantic Beach) attended the rally and said she is concerned about neglect and abuse in nursing homes where seniors and special need adults are not being monitored or only allowed limited visits from family members.

The state resumed visitation at nursing homes in July at facilities that have been COVID-19 free for 14 days and visitors can show a negative test in the past seven days. Some visitations have been restricted in facilities outside Long Island where clusters of cases have been reported.

Miller said she is sponsoring a bill to assign essential care workers access for each patient. She said some patients are dying from failure of oversight leading to neglect and loneliness.

"They’ve given up. They lost their families and they don’t understand it," Miller said.

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