Nursing homes ordered to report COVID-19 cases after Brooklyn pols raise concerns

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in New York
Firemen don personal protective equipment as they enter the Cobble Hill Health Center nursing home, one of the worst hit residences by the pandemic in Kings County.
REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order on April 17 mandating that nursing homes and outpatient assisted living facilities report COVID-19 cases and deaths to family members within 24 hours.

The mandate came just one day after southern Brooklyn lawmakers voiced concerns about the residences’ lack of transparency.

“[We’ve] received multiple complaints from constituents about nursing homes in southern Brooklyn not being transparent about COVID-19 outbreaks,” wrote Councilmen Mark Treyger (D–Coney Island), Justin Brannan (D–Bay Ridge), and Alan Maisel (D–Marine Park) in the April 16 letter to state health officials. “We’ve also heard reports of patients dying in nursing homes with pneumonia-type symptoms, but no tests are being counted to confirm whether or not residents had COVID-19.”

The letter also alleged that nursing homes are sending patients to local hospitals without informing their families, forcing sick employees — who, like many on the front lines, lack proper personal protective equipment — to come to work.

“Our communities deserve transparency. Nursing home residents and staff, as well as families who have loved ones in these facilities, deserve transparency,” the pols wrote. 

Cuomo’s office replied to the lawmakers the next day, pointing to the new executive order.

“Previously, State Department of Health issued guidance asking these facilities to communicate this information to families; this new order makes that guidance mandatory,” the reply read, according to Councilman Mark Treyger. 

Hours after the order was issued, state health officials released a report delineating the COVID-19 death toll at nursing homes throughout the state. Kings County reported 155 coronavirus-related deaths across nine nursing homes, with 55 occurring at Cobble Hill Nursing Home — more than any other nursing home in the state. 

The report, however, is based on a survey that accounts for less than half of the nursing home deaths and doesn’t include figures from outpatient facilities or group homes which have been notoriously difficult to track.

Outside one outpatient psychiatric home in Coney Island, neighbors have witnessed an influx of ambulances, but haven’t been able to find any information about the facility’s COVID-19 death toll. 

“The average number of emergency ambulances (not medical transportation ambulettes) arriving at the home has increased to at least three a day over the last three days that I have been able to observe,” said neighborhood watchdog Orlando Mendez about Oceanview Manor Home for Adults on April 10. “That doesn’t count what might be arriving there during the overnight or wee hours.”

The number of ambulances outside Oceanview Manor has since decreased, Mendez said, but residents and staff still don’t wear face masks or adhere to social distancing measures.

“Up to 20 residents can still be seen outside the home or the nearby boardwalk when the weather permits,” he told Brooklyn Paper on April 16. “There is no social distancing between the observed residents. Very few of them wear face masks. There is no apparent staff supervising the residents at the outside of the home that I’ve witnessed.”

Reps for the state’s Department of Health and Oceanview Manor did not release the number of COVID-19 cases or deaths at the facility when asked. Instead, a spokesman for the for-profit psychiatric home claimed that the facility is following protocols, and said its residents and staff are practicing social distancing and are given PPE.

“We are following all applicable safety guidelines issued by state and federal regulatory authorities,” said Martin Hofman. “We practice social distancing, limit visitor access, ceased in-person group activities, implemented special protocols for those who are higher risk and we make regular announcements about these changes and the guidance we receive from the government.”