New York let coronavirus-infected nurses work in upstate nursing home
The state Health Department allowed nurses and other staff who tested positive for the coronavirus to continue treating COVID-19 patients at an upstate nursing home, The Post has learned.
State officials signed off on the move during an April 10 conference call that excluded local officials from Steuben County, who protested the move, according to a document provided by the county government’s top administrator, Jack Wheeler.
At least 15 people have died at the Hornell Gardens nursing home in the tiny town of Hornell since the outbreak, according to county tallies. State records show just seven deaths across the county and include no data about this home.
“[T]he County was not permitted on a planning call [on April 10] with DOH and the facility owner for mitigation and response,” Wheeler wrote in a memo obtained by The Post. “We learn that DOH will allow positive-asymptomatic staff to work with COVID-positive patients only. We raise our concerns and objections.”
The very next day, Wheeler wrote, the tiny county began receiving hundreds of calls, emails and social media messages about coronavirus-positive staff continuing to work at the facility and that he reached out to the state Department of Health to learn what he could and could not share.
“We ask DOH for official guidance that we can share with the public, which we do not receive,” the memo says. “As Public Health has responsibility for tracking positive subjects, it makes it difficult since we do not know who remains eligible for work.”
Meanwhile, the situation at the Hornell Gardens home continued to deteriorate.
By April 13, “the situation at the Hornell area facility grows more concerning,” Wheeler’s memo says. “We participate in a coordination call with DOH and the facility owner, resulting in a plan to move COVID-negative residents to an out-of-county facility.”
He added: “The County helps coordinate transportation over the next few days.”
The state Health Department’s decision to allow coronavirus-positive nurses to continue working at Hornell Gardens came after two days of testing revealed that one-in-three of the facilities residents and staff had the deadly virus. It came after officials reported three deaths at the facility, Wheeler said.
The tests took place on April 8 and 9 and the results were all back by April 10. They revealed that 46 of the 140 people who live or work at the home were positive for COVID-19, according to Wheeler’s memo.
New York’s embattled state health commissioner, Howard Zucker, was asked about the policy Tuesday during Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily press briefing in Albany — and seemingly confused patients and staff as he answered the question.
“The patients who are, your question about the asymptomatic, we make sure they have necessary precautions that they need by going in there to care for individuals there,” he said. “That involves PPE and we monitor them and we’re working on a way to test them and we are testing individuals who are in the nursing homes, both the workers as well as the patients.”
Cuomo and his appointee, Zucker, are under intense scrutiny for a Health Department directive that required nursing homes to readmit residents from hospitals who tested positive for coronavirus but did not need intensive care — even though the elderly are uniquely vulnerable.
Additionally, emails obtained by The Post showed that officials were warned that a Brooklyn nursing home where 55 people have died warned them they were struggling to cope with coronavirus cases.
Officials at the facility in Cobble Hill requested patients be transferred to the two lightly-used emergency hospital facilities set up on the West Side of Manhattan — the Javits Convention Convention Center and the US naval hospital ship Comfort — but were refused.
Critics say the moves helped to fuel the COVID-19 outbreak in nursing homes and adult living facilities across the state that has killed at least 3,653 people. That’s one in every five people counted for in the state’s nearly inconceivable overall death toll, which now exceeds 18,000.
The nursing home declined repeated requests for comment and pointed The Post to a page on their website.
The state Health Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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