By Josefa Velasquez, Claudia Irizarry Aponte and Trone Dowd.
Originally published: THE CITY on 03/10/20
At a Canarsie nursing home, visits have been sharply limited to by-appointment-only.
In Inwood, one nursing home canceled a host of community events planned for March.
Further east, security guards at a Far Rockaway nursing home are charged with screening visitors for signs of illness.
All around New York, nursing homes are enacting a slew of protocols to prevent coronavirus from striking a population that’s at a particularly high risk of death from the illness.
“What do I worry about? Nursing homes, senior care facilities, and congregate senior citizen complexes,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters in Albany Monday.
The next day, Cuomo superstitiously knocked on the wooden desk so as not to jinx the lack of confirmed coronavirus cases in New York nursing homes.
Cautionary Tales Elsewhere
Public officials and nursing home administrators are on high alert after 18 occupants of one nursing home in Washington state died after contracting coronavirus — a cautionary tale for New Yorkers as the number of people who test positive for the illness grows.
The potential danger hit closer to home after a New Jersey resident who works at the King David Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Bath Beach, Brooklyn, tested positive for coronavirus. None of the 11 patients the worker interacted with have shown any coronavirus symptoms, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
In China, where the illness started earlier this year, the case fatality rate for people older than 80 was nearly 22%, according to a World Health Organization report.
While most people infected with coronavirus display mild, flu-like symptoms and recover within two weeks, the mortality rate increases with age, the WHO report found.
On Friday, the state’s Health Department directed nursing home administrators to screen visitors for “symptoms or potential exposure” of coronavirus and to consider “temporarily modifying visiting hours” to stymie transmission from person to person.
The new protocols being enacted by nursing homes in New York come as the American Health Care Association recommended Tuesday that social visits to residents be halted completely.
Nursing home operators and workers in New York City, where facilities often have hundreds of residents and resemble small villages, say they are not taking precautions lightly.
‘It Could be a Disaster’
One of the largest concerns among nursing homes is a shortage of supplies — particularly medical masks, said Jackie Pappalardi, the director of educational development at the New York State Health Facilities Association, which represents the nursing home industry.
Members of 1199SEIU, the union that represents many health care workers, are being asked to take stock of supplies in nursing homes — such as medical gear, face masks, soap, towels and paper products.
They’re also being asked to report what they need more of in the event of an outbreak, Milly Silva, the union’s executive vice president, told THE CITY.
“We are very concerned to make sure that all of those supplies are in the nursing homes, as well as group homes,” said Silva, who also directs the union’s nursing home division.
The union began planning after hearing about the nursing home in Washington last month. But conversations about the proper protocols remain fluid.
The union is having daily calls and debriefings with members in the field to discuss what measures should be taken, as well as ensure adequate staffing, training and gear.
“As human beings, they’re scared,” Silva said of health care workers poised to treat patients with coronavirus.
Workers are worried about their patients with underlying health issues, as well as concerned about infecting their co-workers and family members.
“It’s very delicate,” Silva said.
If someone contracts coronavirus in a nursing home and it’s not handled correctly, “it could be a disaster,” Silva said.
Family Visits Postponed
Over the weekend, the Four Seasons Nursing and Rehabilitation Center announced that all visitors were prohibited from entering the Canarsie facility unless they scheduled an appointment to see their loved ones.
“It’s kinda like Rikers,” one visitor, who declined to provide her name, told THE CITY nonchalantly. “It’s understandable. They gotta keep [the virus] under control.”
Unaware of the new visitation policy, she and her mother were turned away from visiting their loved one — and instead handed the food they bought from a fried chicken restaurant to a Four Seasons employee to deliver.
Other visitors weren’t as patient.
Israel López and his son José Morales tried on Tuesday to see Morales’ mother, who has been at the center since last Wednesday with a broken hip. The duo, who trekked via public transit from their Williamsburg home, were turned back on Friday and again on Tuesday.
“It’s the second time we came all this way and they don’t give me the pleasure to see her,” López, who spoke in Spanish, told THE CITY.
Staffers told the pair they would call with a time to visit before the end of the week, Morales said. Four Seasons staff declined to answer THE CITY’s questions.
Morales, carrying an empty plastic bag that once held containers of sancocho for his mother, tried to soothe López. “They gotta do what they can to keep it under control,” he said.
“I don’t care,” López responded. “I just wanna see her. I’d carry her out of here over my shoulder, if I could.”
At the Isabella Geriatric Center in Inwood — one of the city’s biggest nursing homes, with 705 residents — administrators cancelled events planned with the neighboring High School for Health Careers and Sciences over coronavirus concerns.
Dance exercise and gatherings where Isabella residents volunteer to teach young children to read were also cancelled, along with all other events scheduled this month, said an administrator, who asked not to be named.
While the all-hours visiting policy hasn’t yet been changed, visitors are provided with single-use face masks to wear during their stay, regardless of whether they’re sick.
Following the recently issued state guidelines, security guards at the Peninsula Nursing and Rehab Center in Far Rockaway are peppering visitors with questions to determine whether they could be sick or have come in contact with someone who has coronavirus.
“Our security guard is also visually seeing if the person is sick,” said Michael Schriebe, an administrator at the nursing home. “If any of the questions are answered in the affirmative or if any individual is visibly sick, we request that they don’t come upstairs and we will not allow them into the building.