“It’s reckless and careless,” said the granddaughter of a 96-year-old man whose family withdrew him from a Long Island nursing home.
April 25, 2020, 2:00 AM PDTBy Suzy Khimm
The coronavirus patients began arriving the last week of March, transferred to the Gurwin Jewish Nursing and Rehabilitation Center under a New York state mandate requiring nursing homes to accept those recovering from COVID-19, even if they still might be contagious.
At the time, the Long Island nursing home had only one known resident who had contracted the virus, according to the facility’s president and CEO, Stuart Almer.
A month later, Gurwin is battling an outbreak that’s killed 24 residents — only three of whom were hospital transfers — and one staff member, who worked in housekeeping, Almer said. And the nursing home is still mandated to take in recovering hospital patients known to have the virus, potentially increasing its spread in the facility.
“We can’t say for sure” whether the virus has spread because of the patients transferred under the state mandate, Almer said. “But it’s certainly not helping the situation.”
Three states hit hard by the pandemic — New York, New Jersey and California — have ordered nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to accept coronavirus patients discharged from hospitals. The policy, intended to help clear in-demand hospital beds for sicker patients, has prompted sharp criticism from the nursing home industry, staff members and concerned families, as well as some leading public health experts.
“Nursing homes are working so hard to keep the virus out, and now we’re going to be introducing new COVID-positive patients?” asked David Grabowski, a professor of health policy at Harvard Medical School. Instead, he believes that states should create COVID-only facilities for recovering patients discharged from hospitals.
“The existing places that can really do this safely in terms of staffing and building space to keep them separate are in the minority,” he added.
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When Gurwin staff members told Christina Peredo’s mother about the mandate in late March, her family decided to withdraw her 96-year-old grandfather from the facility, out of fear for his safety, even though he was still on IV antibiotics and recovering from pneumonia unrelated to the virus, she said.
“To make this a mandate without exploring other options, what you’re saying is, ‘Sorry, you’ve lived a good life,’” Peredo, 35, a nurse, said. “It’s reckless and careless.”
The blowback to these policies prompted California to soften its mandate April 1, saying facilities “can be expected” to receive COVID patients only if they have adequate protective gear and can follow the federal government’s infection control recommendations.
In New Jersey, only facilities “that have the ability to separate patients” into three groups — those who have been infected, those who have been exposed and those who have not been exposed — can accept discharged hospital patients or returning residents who’ve been infected, the state health department said in a statement, adding that 130 long-term care facilities are not accepting admissions.
But in New York, the controversy over the mandate has escalated as the virus has battered hospitals and nursing homes alike: The state not only has more coronavirus cases than anywhere in the country, but also the highest number of known long-term care deaths — at least 3,500 — related to the virus, according to the state health department. A broad swath of nursing homes across the state have already accepted COVID-positive hospital patients in compliance with the mandate, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has openly criticized facilities for opposing it.
“They don’t have a right to object. That is the rule and that is the regulation, and they have to comply with that,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a Thursday news conference. “If they can’t do it, we’ll put them in a facility that can do it.”
Nursing homes across the country have struggled to contain the coronavirus’ spread, facing shortages in testing, personal protective equipment and employees, who assist residents with everything from bathing to feeding themselves. Many elderly residents are unable to comply with basic infection control measures like hand-washing or mask-wearing, and suffer from underlying health conditions that make them more likely to succumb to the virus.
As of this week, the coronavirus has killed nearly 11,000 people in nursing homes in 36 states, according to state health data collected by NBC News. More than half of those deaths occurred in New York and New Jersey.
This article is crossposted from NBC News. You can read the original at their website.