At Shaker Place: 12 workers and 22 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, two residents have died

— Photo from Albany County Executive’s Office
At Shaker Place Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, 22 residents and 12 workers have tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019. On Tuesday, it was announced that two of the nursing-home's residents have died of the disease.

ALBANY COUNTY — Two residents of the county’s nursing home died of COVID-19, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy reported at Tuesday’s press briefing.

They were both men in their eighties with underlying health conditions.

“I went out there this morning. I met with some of our workers … ,” said McCoy. “It’s not easy. They have a tough job … The workers are so dedicated to the people living there as well as the families.”

At last Friday’s press briefing, McCoy had been defensive about not revealing earlier the positive tests for COVID-19 at the county’s nursing home although, after that, he made those numbers part of his regular daily reports.

As of Wednesday’s briefing, 22 nursing home residents had tested positive for the disease as had a total of 12 workers; one of the workers has recovered.

McCoy has said that the county did its own “aggressive” testing at its nursing home to protect both staff and residents.

“The families know … We contact them right away,” McCoy had said at Friday's briefing. “We’re not hiding anything.”

He cited the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, known as HIPAA, and said, “These people have a right to their privacy.”

“I’m not going to apologize if the press gets a little hurt because we didn’t tell them,” McCoy said. “My obligation is to the people up there,” he said of the county’s Shaker Place Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.

McCoy also noted that Albany County had locked down its nursing home before Governor Andrew Cuomo had issued his executive order banning visitors to nursing homes.

Also on Friday, the state released a report on nursing-home fatalities from COVID-19, whether the patients died at the facility or at a hospital; Albany County is listed with three nursing-home deaths. Specific nursing homes are listed in the report only if six or more deaths occurred there; no specific nursing homes in Albany County are listed.

The state’s Department of Health reports that, as of April 15, at least 1,135 residents of adult-care facilities or nursing homes had died of COVID-19, which is about 9 percent of New York State’s death count for coronavirus disease 2019. Most of those deaths were in facilities in New York City, which has been the epicenter of the disease in the United States.

Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen said at Friday's press briefing that COVID-19 in nursing homes is an issue across the country as people over 70 are considered a vulnerable population.

At the March 18 county press briefing, she had spoken about an elderly person who had tested positive for COVID-19 in respite care at Teresian House, calling it a “highly vulnerable” population.

The Teresian House resident was not part of the general population there but in a separate section for respite patients and was then hospitalized at Albany Medical Center, Whalen said on March 18. All residents and staff who were in contact with the hospitalized patient were being tested, Whalen said then.

From a New York State perspective, Whalen said on Friday, a mandate was issued weeks ago for nursing-home workers to wear masks. While counties are involved in investigations of coronavirus disease in nursing homes, Whalen said, New York State has oversight.

“These investigations are special,” she said. “They are hands-on and they are extensive.” When there is a confirmed case in a nursing home, she said, the state does widespread testing throughout the facility “to isolate cases immediately and appropriately.”

She said her department has seen a couple of positive cases in nursing homes where the patient is asymptomatic while other patients manifest symptoms.

“The purpose is to make sure the illness is contained and we limit the spread,” said Whalen.

She went on, “The concern is there. The efforts for prevention are real. Unfortunately, this is a very contagious virus.”

At Tuesday’s press briefing, Whalen said that Shaker Place is “cohorting patients,” meaning that those who have COVID-19 are living separately from those who do not. She also stressed the importance of personal protective equipment for nursing-home staff and said the health department would help with fit-testing for N95 masks.

“All our nursing homes are being proactive,” Whalen said.

Whalen said her department also works closely with facilities run by the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities. “We partner to make sure our vulnerable individuals are cared for, monitored,” and to see that appropriate tests are given to isolate those who are ill to control further infection.

“We are deeply concerned about the high mortality rate and how widespread COVID-19 has become in long-term care facilities,” said Stephen Hanse, president and chief executive officer of the New York State Health Facilities Association and the New York State Center for Assisted Living, in a statement on Friday.

He went on, “The figures confirm what we have been exclaiming throughout this pandemic — nursing homes and assisted-living providers care for the most vulnerable in our communities, and as such, must be a top priority for the allocation of staff, personal protective equipment, and COVID-19 testing.

“Nursing homes and assisted living providers throughout New York have been informing designated family members of positive COVID-19 tests and the presence of COVID-19 in buildings throughout this pandemic. Moreover, providers have continually submitted COVID-19 information to state and local health departments.

“While the focus has often been on hospitals, the residents and staff of nursing homes and assisted living facilities are truly on the front lines of the battle against this virus.

“Outbreaks are not the result of inattentiveness or a shortcoming in our facilities. The very nature of long-term care is a high-touch environment where social distancing is not an option. Staff are helping residents with bathing, dressing, eating, and other personal daily needs.”

Hanse also asserted that the concerns of long-term care providers were not fully recognized when the state’s health department issued a March 25 advisory that prevented providers from denying admission to a nursing home of a hospital patient that had a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19 if that patient was medically stable.

“Given the highly contagious nature of this virus, requiring medically stable COVID-19 positive or suspected patients be admitted from hospitals to nursing homes created considerable concerns and appeared to demonstrate a lack of appreciation of the incredible susceptibility of our residents to this virus,” Hanse said.

He called for the state to ensure that long-term care providers, residents, and staff be designated as a top priority with staffing, personal protective equipment, and testing.

In mid-March Jay Lawrence, director of business development for The Grand corporation, which has 17 nursing-home facilities across New York State, including one in Guilderland Center, was asked by The Enterprise if The Grand nursing homes would take overflow COVID-19 patients.

Speaking broadly, of all The Grand facilities, not specifically about the one in Guilderland Center, Lawrence said, “Depending on how things evolve and if it is needed, we can be available, if all the planets align.”

The Grand in Guilderland Center has 127 beds, Lawrence said, and is “largely filled to capacity.”

Lawrence said he could not comment on whether the Guilderland Center nursing home would be accepting overflow patients from hospitals in the future. He noted that the situation with the spreading virus is “very fluid,” and repeated several times that The Grand is following all state directives and all guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Again, speaking broadly, Lawrence said, “We have appropriate procedures and policies in place … If there is a need for folks to come into our facility, they are brought into a step-down, and kept in an isolated location for 14 days.”

At Friday’s county press briefing, Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, came to McCoy’s defense, stating, “There is nobody in the county of Albany that cares about the residents of the Albany County nursing home than County Executive Dan McCoy … I know his passion. I know his commitment to keeping that home as a viable option for people of Albany County to spend the last few years of their life.”

Acquario also said the quick action by McCoy and Whalen to close Shaker Place to visitors saved lives.


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