ALBANY — There are 410 residents and employees at 10 nursing homes in Albany County who have tested positive for COVID-19, up from 312 a week ago. There have been 42 fatalities attributed to the virus and one suspected.
With congregate living by the most vulnerable population, nursing homes are an issue across the country and New York state and Albany County are no exception. Earlier this week, County Executive Dan McCoy asked the state to consider nursing homes separately from the general population when it factors the metrics required to reopen the economy. He is still waiting on a decision.
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“They understand what we were saying because it is something not just here in the U.S., this virus is impacting nursing homes harder than anywhere else,” McCoy said. “People do not go to a nursing home because they are healthy. They have underlying health issues and they go to a nursing home to live out their final years. We give them the best care we can, and that’s why we invested 90 million in our nursing home and we have a staff that is second to none. But, if they don’t carve that out it will be difficult to reopen.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has come under fire for a March directive requiring nursing homes accept COVID-19 positive patients from hospitals to free up beds needed for patients requiring more critical care. Those beds, largely in the hardest hit areas of downstate, were never needed and now, under a new Executive Order, the counties must test each resident and employee of nursing homes twice a week, a directive officials are questioning for a number of reasons.
“There are practical considerations like lab capacity to do the tests and staffing to conduct the tests,” said Dr. Elizabeth Whalen, head of the Albany County Health Department. “The theory, which is good from an infection control perspective, is a layer above what is being done already, and while it certainly helpful to address the high rate of mortality in nursing homes across the state, it has to be considered from a practical perspective too.”
She said the temperature of workers are checked each time they enter the facility and all workers are provided Personal Protection Equipment, including gowns and masks. Any worker who tests positive, be it asymptomatic or if they are sick, are placed under quarantine and cannot go back to work for at least two weeks. The state waived the standard two-week quarantine early in the crisis if the employee was symptom free and the employee’s absence would have caused an unsafe level of staffing. In March, all visitation was stopped except for end of life matters.
In the hardest hit nursing homes of New York City, Long Island and Westchester County have been hit the hardest, more than 4,300 residents have died from COVID-19 or presumed to have died from the virus. The tally does not include residents who were moved to a hospital and later died, according to the state Department of Health.
Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association and the New York State Center for Assisted Living, which represents over 400 skilled nursing providers and adult care/assisted living communities, applauded the governor’s directive but he too questions the logistics.
“New York has 614 nursing homes with over 140,000 employees and roughly 500 assisted living facilities with over 45,000 employees. As such, the governor’s Executive Order requires over 370,000 tests to be conducted every week,” he said in a statement. “To date, the state has tested approximately 1.2 million individuals and this requirement will eclipse that total in short order.”
For it to work, he said, the state will have to allocated the required number of test kits and, as importantly, the staff and funding to administer and process the results. Also, he said, since more testing will lead to more positive results, the state has to take into account the filling vacancies of infected workers not able to work for at least two weeks.
“Maybe we can test everyone once a week. But how do you do every worker and resident twice a week? I don’t know how to do it,” McCoy said. “If you test on Monday andﬁ then again on Friday you are playing catch up. We want to comply and we want to do it but we don’t know how.”