A parade in honor of veterans and the health workers who provide their care was held at the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook on Saturday. Credit: Kendall Rodrigiuez

The Long Island State Veterans Home has suffered six additional deaths from COVID-19 since Tuesday, bringing the death toll there to 52 and dividing families of residents between those complaining that the facility has not done enough and those standing by the Stony Brook nursing center.

The 350-bed facility has the highest number of reported COVID-19 deaths of any Long Island nursing home. But the veterans home is one of the few on Long Island that has been open about coronavirus-related deaths.

Six more residents died since a letter was posted on the home’s website Tuesday, and 20 have died since April 17, the facility reported in a new letter posted Friday night.

“Our staff continues to deeply mourn the loss of our residents,” states the letter, which was sent under the names of the home's five top officials, including executive director Fred Sganga. 

Kathy Caruso, whose father caught the virus in the home, said she tried in vain to get the veterans home to isolate coronavirus patients early on. 

"I just got off the phone with the hospital and they had to put my dad in ICU on a ventilator," said Caruso, of East Northport. "How many veterans have to die?"

The COVID-19 death toll rose to 52 Friday at the...

The COVID-19 death toll rose to 52 Friday at the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook.. The facility is shown on Saturday, April 25, 2020. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Judith Regan said she had a virtual phone call with her 91-year-old father in the home Friday, where she could see that his mask was hanging below his mouth, as was the mask of the staffer in his room.

"I told the woman, 'Ma'am, you must wear your mask at all times,' " said Regan, who lives in Manhattan and Los Angeles. "They need to evacuate that place and test everyone."

The facility operates under the auspices of Stony Brook Medicine and is regulated by the state Department of Health.

The Department of Health issued a statement Saturday that said it had investigated every nursing home with a suspected or positive case of COVID-19. 

“We've said from the start that protecting our most vulnerable populations including people in nursing homes is our top priority and that's why the State acted quickly and aggressively to issue guidance specifically for these facilities on testing, infection control, environmental cleaning, staffing, visitation, admission, readmission, and outreach to residents and families," the statement said. 

Friday’s letter from the nursing home said the facility separates residents based on their coronavirus status. Sixty-five residents have tested positive for the virus, up from the 51 positive results noted in Tuesday’s letter. 

Fifty-seven of 126 staff members who have been tested for the virus have tested positive, Friday’s letter states, and 23 have recovered and returned to work.

Staff members wave and show appreciation as families of veterans...

Staff members wave and show appreciation as families of veterans at the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook hold a parade for them on Saturday. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Sganga has said a key problem has been the difficulty in obtaining enough personal protective equipment. The letter says that in the past several days, more masks, coveralls, face shields and gowns have arrived.

Stony Brook Medicine issued a statement Saturday in support of the staff and management of the center.

"In this unprecedented public health crisis, the LISVH has upheld its standard of quality care, respect and transparency when it comes to hosting our residents and communicating and staying in touch with the families of our residents," said the statement from Dr. Ken Kaushansky, senior vice president of health sciences and dean of the Renaissance School of Medicine.

Kaushansky noted that the virus attacks males at a greater rate than females and the Long Island veterans center, unlike nursing homes nationwide, has a far greater number of men than women. 

On Saturday, scores of family members with loved ones in the home gathered outside the facility to cheer the staff as they emerged between shifts.

"I couldn't be happier with the level of care received by my father," said event organizer Mary Ellen Warner of Bethpage, whose 73-year-old father has been there four years. "They talk to me every day."

Tom Carbone, 63, of East Meadow, who also attended the support rally, added, "If my father should catch the virus there and succumb to it, I will hold no ill feelings toward those folks." 

With David M. Schwartz

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