Report Alleges COVID-19 Negligence at New York State Veterans’ Home

New York State Veterans’ Home in St. Albans, in Queens, has violated Health Department coronavirus protocols, according to a May 5, 2020 report by THE CITY.  Facility employees told the publication that the nursing home was failing to separate roommates in cases where one had a suspected case of COVID-19; and that the nursing home was not isolating infected residents in their own section of the facility, with their own separate team of care workers.

Employees also described shortages of personal protective equipment, telling THE CITY that N95 masks were “handed out just once in late March and expected to last for weeks,” with the supplies restocked only a few weeks ago.

They also alleged that the facility was under-reporting resident deaths from COVID-19. The actual number, they said, was “at least twice or even three times the official tally of 19” by May 1, 2020, that the facility reported to the Department of Health. THE CITY notes that the facility is operated by the Department of Health, suggesting that the Department was “essentially” under-reporting the death count “to itself.”

One employee of New York State Veterans’ Home told THE CITY, “There was just no effort to try to even maintain any kind of minimizing transmission or anything… Nobody took it seriously.” Staff members described “a lack of urgency” at the nursing home as the pandemic spread, alleging that the facility employed protective measures “either too late or not at all,” and that these measure were “rarely enforced.” Employees spoke anonymously to THE CITY because the nursing home’s administrator had forbade them from responding to queries “from the media or from elected officials.”

They alleged that facility administrators at one point designed an area dedicated to sub-acute care as an isolation are for residents with COVID-19, but eventually abandoned this plan partly because of staff shortages. Residents in that unit were instead “scattered throughout the nursing home” and the section became “a temporary hold for bodies destined for a refrigeration truck” parked outside the nursing home, staffers said. Workers from the unit were “assigned to float among the remaining units,” resulting in an increased chance that the coronavirus could spread throughout the facility. Staffers said the nursing home lagged in its establishment of social distancing measures recommended by the state. For instance, the Department of Health advise on March 13 that nursing homes put an end to “group dining and recreational activities,” but the New York State Veterans Home did not inform families it was limiting—rather than canceling—such gatherings until March 20, one week after the state’s advisory. One week later, the facility informed residents’ families that it was testing three residents for COVID-19, and that it was restricting residents from exiting the facility “except for medical necessities.” Even then, according to THE CITY, recreational activities continued within resident units.

Only on April 3 did New York State Veterans’ Home start segregating resident units, according to THE CITY. Facility administrators said in a memo on that date, “The Facility is now experiencing a number of positive COVID-19 cases for residents and staff… As a precaution, we have quarantined all units and restricted all residents to their own rooms where feasible.” Still, workers allege that residents with COVID-19 were not isolated from uninfected residents in any systematic sense. One worker told THE CITY “observed a COVID-19 resident sharing a room with a man who was not showing any symptoms of the virus, but who was at high risk of succumbing to it because he had diabetes and a respiratory condition.” At the time of this observation, the worker said, the nursing home had empty rooms.

According to THE CITY, an employee of New York State Veterans’ Home filed a complaint on April 15, 2020, alleging the facility was not enforcing social distancing requirements. New York police “found no violations of the six-foot distancing rules, including within rooms, but relayed the complaint to a doctor” at the facility. State health officials assert that the nursing home followed all requirements, but did not specify when its social distancing measures were implement, or address allegations about the facility’s failure to separate infected patients from asymptomatic residents with whom they shared rooms.

That complaint also questioned the nursing home’s death count, according to THE CITY, which reports that documents posted on the facility’s website “show a discrepancy between what’s been reported to families and what’s being reported publicly” by health officials. Eight letters posted on the facility’s website, ranging from April 21 to May 4, describe a total of nine resident deaths from COVID-19, each occurring in the day preceding the letter’s posting. However, according to THE CITY, the nursing home’s “reported tally of COVID-19 deaths posted publicly” by the state from April 20 until May 1 “remained unchanged at 19.” That total was updated to 33 deaths, through May 3, on May 5. According to THE CITY, health officials did not respond to queries about the total number residents who lived at the facility “at the beginning of the month from March to May.” Employees, meanwhile, allege that there have been “numerous” uncounted deaths.

According to the facility’s Department of Health profile, New York State Veterans’ Home has received 31 citations for violations of health and safety code between 2016 and 2020. One 2018 citation found that the nursing home did not adequately maintain an infection control program. The citation states specifically that a nurse was observed wearing soiled gloves while handling sterilized supplies, then changing to a new pair of gloves without performing proper hand hygiene.

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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