Questions Linger About Deaths at Sapphire Nursing Home in Queens

An April 16, 2020 report by the New York Times raised questions about whether Sapphire Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Queens, New York was accurately the number of residents who died during the coronavirus outbreak. Although the facility’s administration informed Queens state representative Ronald Kim that a total of 29 residents died, according to the report, Kim said “the numbers given by the home… did not match what he was hearing from workers there.”

The Times report stated additionally that two workers at 227-bed nursing home said “the actual death toll was considerably higher” than the 29 figure, and may have reached as high as 60 residents. One unnamed staffer at the facility told the Times, “You come to your shift and this person’s gone, this person’s gone…We were losing five or six residents a week, then four or five a day. Last week on my shift it was about eight of them passed away.” Information about resident deaths was reportedly not shared with residents’ families. One resident’s son told the newspaper that over the course of regular video chats with his mother—arranged after the facility suspended family visits—he became concerned about her development of a fever, cough, and loss of appetite. He was reportedly told by a nurse that she had pneumonia; when he asked if it was COVID-19, the nurse said the facility did not know, because patients were not able to get tests. The report continues:

Then the nurse fell ill, and Mr. Liao said he did not speak to his mother for days. He made repeated calls to the facility, desperately trying to reach any available nurse.

But the phone just rang and rang. Finally, on April 8, he got through. A social worker helped him video chat with his mother, 84, who was very weak. It was the last time he’d speak to her. His mother died later that evening, he said.

Mr. Liao still doesn’t know if it was Covid-19 that killed her. But he said he heard that “many staff and the patients passed away very quick.”

Nursing homes are “grimly efficient places” because they place staffers in “constant contact” with residents who are at high risk of infection, the report says: “When changing a diaper or helping someone into bed, there is no such thing as social distancing.” The risks are amplified by issues common in nursing homes, like under-staffing, an under-availability of personal protective equipment, and insufficient testing. The Times notes that because New York nursing home regulations list no minimum staffing requirement, “overstretched workers [often] move from one vulnerable resident to the next,” without any opportunity to don new masks, surgical gowns, or gloves—provided that their facilities even have such equipment available.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC work diligently to protect the rights of nursing home residents.  Please contact us to discuss in the event you have a potential case involving neglect or abuse.

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