New York health officials allowed nurses with coronavirus to keep working at a virus-stricken care home where 15 people have now died, according to staff memos.
Staff who had tested positive for COVID-19 were sent back to work at the Hornell Gardens nursing home in Hornell, Steuben County – even after three residents had died and a third of all residents and staff were infected with the deadly virus.
Questions were leveled at the state’s health commissioner Howard Zucker this week over the matter, as the county claimed the Health Department ignored protests from local officials and approved the move to keep sending infected staff into the home.
This marks the latest scandal over the state’s response to protecting elderly and sick people in care homes amid the pandemic, after it emerged last week officials had turned down pleas from another facility to move sick residents to the USNS Comfort away from the healthy residents.
Staff who had tested positive for COVID-19 were sent back to work at the Hornell Gardens nursing home (above) in Hornell, Steuben County – even after three residents had died and a third of all residents and staff were infected with the deadly virus
State officials gave the risky move to send staff with coronavirus back into Hornell Gardens the go ahead on April 10, Steuben County’s top administrator Jack Wheeler wrote in a memo obtained by the New York Post.
Wheeler wrote that the County was excluded from the decision.
‘[T]he County was not permitted on a planning call [on April 10] with DOH and the facility owner for mitigation and response,’ he wrote.
‘We learn that DOH will allow positive-asymptomatic staff to work with COVID-positive patients only. We raise our concerns and objections.’
The shock decision came after three residents had already died from the virus and just two days after a third of all residents and staff were confirmed to have tested positive for coronavirus.
Testing on April 8 and 9 revealed 46 of the 140 staff and residents at the home had been infected with the deadly virus, the memo showed.
On April 11, another memo recorded that the county was inundated with calls, emails and social media messages over the move and Wheeler reached out to health officials for their advice in communicating the move – a request the Post said was ignored.
Wheeler said: ‘We ask DOH for official guidance that we can share with the public, which we do not receive.
Howard Zucker (left) defended the state’s response to nursing home outbreaks during a press briefing saying ‘necessary precautions’ had been taken
‘As Public Health has responsibility for tracking positive subjects, it makes it difficult since we do not know who remains eligible for work.’
Concerns continued to mount and on April 13 the home began moving residents who tested negative for coronavirus out of the home to better protect them, the Post reported.
‘The situation at the Hornell area facility grows more concerning,’ Wheeler’s memo said.
‘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.
‘The County helps coordinate transportation over the next few days.’
At least 15 people have now died in the nursing home since the start of the outbreak with questions mounting over whether some of the deaths could have been avoided.
These deaths have not been included in official state figures, which record just seven COVID-19 deaths across the entire county.
The state’s neglect to include nursing home deaths in official figures suggests New York’s death toll could be even higher than the 18,015 recorded so far.
Staff at Cobble Hill nursing home in Brooklyn say they don’t have enough PPE
The nursing home was also denied its request to move sick patients to the USNS Comfort following an outbreak at the facility, the CEO said last week
Zucker defended the state’s response to nursing home outbreaks during Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily press conference Tuesday, saying ‘necessary precautions’ had been taken.
‘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.’
DailyMail.com has reached out to the Health Department for comment over the allegations at Hornell Gardens.
This comes after a separate New York nursing home was denied its request to move sick patients to the USNS Comfort following an outbreak at the facility.
CEO of the Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn, Donny Tuchman, pleaded with officials in an email on April 9, asking if there was ‘a way for us to send our suspected covid patients’ to either the Comfort or the hospital built inside the Jacob Javits Convention Center.
At the time of the email, only 134 of the 1,000 beds at the Javits Center were being used, and the Comfort had only 62 patients on board the ship that had the capacity to treat 500.
Tuchman told the New York Post his request was denied because officials said the facilities were ‘only for hospitals’.
He also said he had begged the state to provide more protective gear after nursing home staff protested at a lack of PPE while they care for sick residents, reported Spectrum Local News.
At least 55 residents have now died from COVID-19 at the home.
At least 3,653 people have died from coronavirus in nursing homes and care facilities across New York state.
Nursing homes are especially vulnerable to the virus because most residents are elderly and have pre-existing health conditions.