Navigating the ever-changing waters of what is the COVID-19 response by the state, nursing homes — where a coronavirus outbreak could cause serious devastation — have had the most scrutiny, especially the state's largest non-profit nursing home, the Hebrew Home at Riverdale.
State health department officials arrived at the Palisade Avenue facility last week to help implement revised guidelines on testing and classification. In a memo to residents, family and staff members, Hebrew Home administrators have shared those results, including the reclassification of 28 deaths since March 1 as ones suspected of being related to the coronavirus.
"Each of these deaths represents a tragedy for a family who lost a loved one, or a friend who lost a companion," Hebrew Home chief executive Daniel Reingold wrote in the memo, co-signed by the home's chief medical officer, Dr. Zachary Palace.
"Our staff also deeply grieves the loss of relationships forged over years of providing care. We are endeavoring to work closely with our staff to address our shared loss."
Added to the previous 35 deaths reported as COVID-related, that brings the Hebrew Home's total to 63 deaths since March 1 — or 41 percent of the deaths that occurred a the facility since the virus hit New York.
The 28 reclassifications are marked "possibly caused by COVID-19," determined by health department officials and Hebrew Home doctors, after a review of medical files over the last several days, Reingold said.
"It is important to note that these are not just statistics," he said. "Every death at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale is a devastating loss, and we view this pandemic by lives, not numbers. That is why we are so proud of every member of the care team for stepping up and going above and beyond the call of duty."
It's not clear if the health department is in the process of reviewing and updating practices at other nursing homes in the state or not. A request for comment was pending with the agency. But with 63 deaths, that would place Hebrew Home just ahead of The Plaza Rehabilitation and Nursing Center on Kingsbridge Road, which has 61 reported deaths through May 16.
The Plaza has more than 800 beds, while Hebrew Home has 751.
The health department's arrival also gave Hebrew Home a chance to test everyone — believed to be the first in the state to have everyone tested, and all results in. Officials found that 64 staff members — including 43 nurses — tested positive, along with 109 residents. Most, Reingold said, were asymptomatic.
With more tests now available, the Hebrew Home will further segregate residents beyond what's already been done based on three criteria: positive, negative but exposed to the virus, and negative.
"Residents who tested positive are being moved as necessary," Reingold said. "Likewise, we are grouping residents who tested negative together on other floors. We are evaluating all moves and neighborhoods to ensure the ongoing safety of our residents and staff."
It's a plan that includes testing all staff members twice weekly beginning Wednesday. It also means measuring temperature, pulse and respiration levels of all residents at the start of each nursing shift, will blood pressure checked daily. And any residents testing positive for the virus will be isolated in their rooms.
From the beginning of the pandemic, Hebrew Home closed its campus to all visitors, instituted three dedicated coronavirus floors, and have taken temperatures daily of both staff members and residents.,
"We do this because we are dedicated to our mission of providing the highest quality care to residents, especially amidst this unprecedented pandemic," Reingold said. "Our dedicated and compassionate clinical teams have been on the front lines during the coronavirus pandemic, working around the clock to care for the most vulnerable population, battling this new and vastly unknown virus."
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