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Five residents at Amherst nursing home die from Covid-19

Buffalo News - 9/16/2020

Sep. 16--ALBANY -- A Covid-19 outbreak that began in early August at a suburban Buffalo nursing home has claimed the lives of five residents in the past few weeks, another sign of the pandemic's unrelenting impact on the region's most vulnerable residents.

Elderwood in Amherst since the first week or so of August has seen 25 residents infected with the coronavirus, nursing home officials say. It is currently carrying for four Covid-19 patients.

Of additional concern to family members of residents is a recent acknowledgement by officials that the virus is no longer contained to a single unit -- the "red zone," as officials called it -- as it was just a couple weeks ago after spreading from a section that houses dementia patients.

Since The Buffalo News on Aug. 28 first reported on the spike of cases at the 92-bed facility, which only recently was operating at two-thirds its capacity, nine additional staff members have tested positive for the virus, according to family members of residents concerned the virus has not yet been contained.

The situation has family members, according to people who spoke on condition of anonymity, increasingly worried about a facility where officials had said only one positive Covid-19 case between when the outbreak was known to commence in March in New York State until the new cases began increasing at the local facility in August.

"The recent outbreak is a stark reminder that asymptomatic transmission remains a serious concern and that the pandemic is not over," said Chuck Hayes, a spokesman for the Elderwood facility at Amherst. The company runs Elderwood facilities in Western New York and elsewhere in upstate and other Northeast states.

The number of deaths at the Amherst facility, like the number of new Covid-19 cases statewide, is lower than many nursing homes were witnessing earlier this year when the virus was at its peak in New York State.

The state health department, for instance, has reported 65 deaths of residents at Father Baker Manor or an acute care facility it runs in Orchard Park, while 36 residents at Absolut and 38 residents at Harris Hill nursing homes died earlier this year, according to the state.

The situation at Elderwood comes as the state Health Department on Tuesday relaxed visitation rules for nursing homes across the state, making it so that most facilities will be able to offer limited visitation under an array of rules.

Elderwood at Amherst is caring for four residents with Covid-19; two others who were transferred to a local hospital have died, nursing home officials confirmed Tuesday night. Another resident who tested positive died in August, but officials say the virus was not the cause of death. Fifteen residents have recovered.

Lawmakers in both political parties have criticized the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for not fully revealing the extent of the Covid-19 death crisis that hit nursing homes. That's because, they say, the administration does not, unlike many other states, count nursing home residents who are transferred to a hospital and then die as a nursing home death.

The Cuomo administration puts the nursing home death toll at more than 6,000; others have estimated the number at more than 10,000.

The controversy is still brewing in New York -- nearly six months after the Cuomo administration issued an order requiring nursing homes to admit Covid-19-positive patients being transferred from hospitals. That policy has since been reversed. The U.S. Justice Department last month said it launched an inquiry into Covid-19 deaths at some nursing homes in New York.

In the case of Elderwood in Amherst, the outbreak among residents in August was confined to the facility's second floor "memory unit," which houses people with diseases such as Alzheimer's. In recent weeks, however, three residents who live on the nursing home's first floor long-term care section have contracted Covid-19, according to information the facility has provided family members of residents.

Hayes, the Elderwood spokesman, confirmed that three cases "were not from the unit that experienced the initial cases" and did not identify the units.

"However, all Covid (positive) cases have been isolated where they can be made comfortable and carefully monitored," Hayes said.

Elderwood has 10 staff members excluded from going to work because they tested positive. As of the end of August, at least nine staffers at the facility had tested positive.

Recent outreach to family members of the Amherst facility's residents revealed that one staff member tested positive on Aug. 31, three more on Sept. 3 and four more on Sept. 11. Another tested positive Monday, according to an automatic call to family members on Monday night.

A Cuomo administration report this summer blamed the Covid-19 crisis in nursing homes on staff members, many of whom the state Health Department said unknowingly transmitted the virus to vulnerable residents.

Elderwood officials said the Amherst facility has been using rapid testing equipment, which it has on-site to test for Covid-19. Hayes said the most recent case of a resident was confirmed Sept. 4.

"The team at Elderwood at Amherst continue to utilize comprehensive infection control protocols and adhere to NYS Department of Health and CDC guidelines. The administration has been in frequent contact with families of residents to keep them updated as to the status of Covid-19 at the facility and they established a special hotline to accommodate families who wish to maintain close contact," Hayes said in a written response to questions posed Monday by The Buffalo News.

"We care for a population that is extremely vulnerable to this virus and our efforts to prevent Covid-19 were extraordinarily effective with just one positive test result between March and August," Hayes added.

Elderwood at Amherst earlier this spring saw six patients die from Covid-19 complications, but they all had been transferred into a special Covid-19-only unit from other nursing homes or hospitals.

At one point last month, 36% of the residents at the Elderwood facility in Amherst had Covid-19.

The state on Tuesday said it will let nursing homes that have been Covid-19-free for 14 days -- down from the current 28 days -- to resume visitation. Nursing homes will be prohibited from allowing visitors at any one time to total more than 10% of a facility's resident population and residents can have a maximum of two visitors at a time over the age of 18. Guests must also show proof that they have been Covid-19-negative for the previous 7 days before a visit.


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