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48 dead at NY Jewish nursing home where carer says staff wear bags – report

Spokesperson for Parker Jewish Institute denies claim, says there is enough protective gear for workers; official death toll for center stands at 38

Illustrative -- Medical personnel transport a body from a refrigerated truck at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, April 8, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Illustrative -- Medical personnel transport a body from a refrigerated truck at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, April 8, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

After New York released details on coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes, a report published Saturday said that one Jewish facility may have seen significantly more deaths and infections than official figures suggested.

According to the official numbers, as of Wednesday, 38 residents of one Jewish nursing home were recorded as having died of COVID-19.

However, the Daily Beast reported, the death toll at the facility is in fact 48, with the outlet’s correspondent tweeting Saturday that according to an internal list at Parker Jewish Institute for Health Care and Rehabilitation, the death toll may even be as high as 57 as of Saturday.

According to the Daily Beast, the facility has been ill-equipped to deal with an outbreak of the virus, which is particularly dangerous for the elderly, with care workers lacking the N95 masks that help prevent infections and sometimes having to wear trash bags as gowns.

Lina Scacco, an assistant vice president at the New Hyde Park facility on Long Island in New York, pushed back against that claim, saying the nursing home could “guarantee” nobody had reached the point where they needed to wear trash bags for protection.

“It’s actually disturbing to me that people are telling you that,” she told the Daily Beast. “We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on personal protective equipment. Whoever is telling you these things… maybe there is something going on in their lives or they are trying to sensationalize things. I don’t trust them.”

Scacco told the Associated Press that the facility, whose residents include war veterans and Holocaust survivors, was ravaged despite having infection control practices that exceed CDC and health department regulations and guidelines.

Now, she said, they’re planning virtual memorials for residents who’ve died and grief counseling for staff members.

“This has been devastating to our families,” Scacco said.

New York, by far the nation’s leader in coronavirus nursing home deaths, released details Friday on outbreaks in individual facilities after weeks of refusing to do so, revealing that one home in Brooklyn had 55 deaths and four others had at least 40 deaths. A total of 19 homes in New York’s report listed 20 deaths or more.

The state’s accounting of deaths at 68 nursing homes was based on a survey and is substantially incomplete, accounting for less than half of the 2,690 nursing home deaths that have been reported in the state. It also didn’t include people who got sick in nursing homes but then died at hospitals.

But it was the first time the state provided any information about homes that, according to an Associated Press tally, account for nearly 40% of the nation’s 6,912 deaths in such facilities.

At the top of the list with 55 deaths was Cobble Hill Health Center, a 300-bed facility in a 19th-century former hospital in a tony section of Brooklyn.

Four ambulances arrived within an hour at the facility Friday, underscoring the ongoing crisis. Police showed up to assist with the removal of bodies, including one that was wheeled out the front door.

A patient is loaded into an ambulance by emergency medical workers outside Cobble Hill Health Center,April 17, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The Cobble Hill home said in a statement that the deaths it reported were “based on the possibility of COVID-19 being a factor,” adding that testing in nursing homes remains “extremely difficult to obtain.”

“Although we’ve had an increase in deaths during the past few weeks, we have not been able to confirm that the deaths are specifically related to COVID-19,” the statement said.

The state survey’s release came a day after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration reversed course and promised transparency about the worst outbreaks, after previously saying residents at the hardest-hit homes deserved privacy. Few states have released such information.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo briefs the media inside a nearly completed makeshift hospital at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York, March 27, 2020. (Darren McGee/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo via AP)

Nursing homes have been known since the earliest days of the outbreak as a likely trouble spot. A home in Washington state lost 43 residents early in the virus’s spread into the country.

Italy, which was hit before the US, is also in the midst of a nursing home crisis, with health officials there estimating Friday that thousands of patients there have been killed by the virus.

Yet even with that early warning, many nursing homes remained without adequate supplies of personal protective equipment. Testing for residents and staff remains spotty, at best.

Federal officials in mid-March banned visitors, halted group activities and ordered mandatory screening of workers for respiratory symptoms, but by then the virus had quietly spread widely.

Many nursing home administrators also previously declined to release information, leading Cuomo to say this week that the state would begin requiring homes to inform patients and their families within 24 hours if a resident got the virus or died.

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