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Sisters launch page to share stories of nursing home deaths in pandemic

Ana Celia Martinez died at Our Lady of

Ana Celia Martinez died at Our Lady of Consolation Nursing Home in West Islip on April 1. Credit: Alexa Rivera

A pair of Long Island sisters who lost their to mother to COVID-19 last month are calling for improved accountability and transparency inside state-licensed nursing homes to prevent a second wave of deaths if the virus returns in the fall.

Vivian Rivera Zayas and Alexa Rivera of Deer Park, whose mother, Ana Celia Martinez, died April 1 shortly after leaving Our Lady of Consolation Nursing & Rehabilitative Care Center in West Islip, announced Wednesday a Facebook page to share stories of seniors who have died at nursing homes and to demand changes.

"My life has been turned upside down without my mother. I will not let it stand. My mother was not a statistic and was not expendable," Zayas said at an online news conference.

Martinez, a Brooklyn resident, was at Our Lady of Consolation to recover from knee replacement surgery. 

The sisters contend they had difficulty obtaining information about their mother's condition once the facility locked its doors to the public in early March and that staff "downplayed" Martinez's condition once she developed abdominal pains and was too hoarse to speak. Martinez came down with pneumonia, tested positive for COVID-19 and died at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip, the sisters said.

"My mother was supposed to come home," Rivera said. "We don't want this to happen to anyone else."

Chris Hendriks, a spokeswoman for Catholic Health Services, which runs Our Lady of Consolation, declined to discuss specific cases but said there is constant and ongoing communication with each patient and their family. 

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"We regularly test residents so we can quickly identify who might be positive in order to protect those who are not," she said. "We keep symptomatic residents separate from our general population and maintain infection prevention control precautions when treating these residents. Additionally, we are vigilant in monitoring staff and residents for any COVID-19 symptoms and immediately take appropriate steps, if symptoms should appear."

Our Lady of Consolation has reported 38 confirmed or presumed COVID deaths, according to state Health Department data.

The women argue that nursing homes must do a better job of informing family members of loved ones' deteriorating condition and improving access to audio-video devices to facilitate easier communication with residents.

The state, they say, also should reverse its mandate that nursing homes could not deny patients admission solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19.

Also at the news conference was Lorry Sullivan of Lindenhurst. She said her mother, Lorraine Sullivan, died at Our Lady of Consolation on April 14 — her 89th birthday. Sullivan said her mother was at the facility to recover from a broken leg but quickly became ill, falling out of bed and her wheelchair. 

Doctors initially believed she had a urinary tract infection, but Sullivan later showed signs of dehydration, difficulty breathing and an inability to swallow, she said. The staff, Sullivan said, initially resisted testing her mother for COVID-19, but eventually relented. She tested positive shortly before her death.

"We need an independent watchdog set up as an advocate for patients," Sullivan said. "Someone without a financial interest. … We need this set up before a second wave comes."

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