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TWENTY COVID-19- RELATED DEATHS REPORTED IN ORLEANS COUNTY NURSING HOME

Front entrance of The Villages of Orleans Health & Rehabilitation Center nursing home.According to an article published by the Orleans Hub on May 14, 2020, 77 residents at The Villages of Orleans Health and Rehabilitation Center (“The Villages”), a 120 bed nursing home in Albion, New York, have tested positive for coronavirus.  The same article identifies that twenty residents at The Villages have died, accounting for all but one of the COVID-19 deaths in Orleans County.  According to the Democrat & Chronicle in an article published on May 6, 2020 and titled “Orleans County nursing home part of New York network with 365 COVID-19 deaths”, The Villages is one of 23 nursing homes owned by an interlocking group of companies which oversee ownership and finances of licensed health-care facilities in the state.  As of May 6, 2020, those 23 nursing homes accounted for 365 confirmed or presumed COVID-19 deaths, equal to 7.5% of all nursing home deaths in the state.  While State Senators Rob Ortt, Pat Gallivan and Chris Jacob are calling for an independent investigation into New York State’s nursing homes, multiple news outlets are reporting that former employees of The Villages have publicly criticized the care residents received at the nursing home.

According to the Orleans Hub on May 13, 2020, Hope Albone was a nurse’s aide at The Villages.  She reportedly quit earlier in May after realizing something was dreadfully wrong and shared her story with the State Attorney General’s office in an effort to save the lives of remaining residents.  According to Ms. Albone, when the first case of the virus broke out, staff understood extra precautions were needed to protect residents and staff.  But that didn’t happen.  Ms. Albone revealed that “we were told we had to share gowns.”  This troubled her because “we’d been told how easily the virus can spread from a sneeze or a droplet.”  Ms. Albone sent the Attorney General pictures of dirty gowns hanging on the wall, waiting to be worn by employees the next shift.  In addition to being required to wear dirty gowns, Ms. Albone reported that the nursing director locked the N-95 masks in her office.  Ms. Albone described that the facility was short staffed, recalling one night where she and two nurses were the only staff present to serve the entire facility.  “I stood there and cried,” she said.  The Orleans Hub further reported that, to address the staffing issue, The Villages contracted to bring six aides from Louisiana, but some of the staff tested positive for COVID-19 which, according to the local Health Department, contributed to the virus’ spread in the facility.

According to the previously mentioned article in the Democrat and Chronicle and an article by The Daily News on May 5, 2020 titled, “I don’t want to die: Staggering COVID-19 toll at nursing home”, Katie Bourke was a certified nursing assistant at The Villages before resigning several weeks ago.  Like Ms. Albone, Ms. Bourke said the facility suffered staff shortages and a dire lack of protective equipment.  “Employees are wearing the same masks for days, trying to keep them washed and sanitized.  If we gown up we are to save that gown and share it with the next aide,” she reported.  “Aides are being assigned to almost 30 residents by themselves because we lack aides so bad.  Residents were crying and saying how they just wanted to die.  They were begging me not to leave so that they would get proper care and not be left alone or get their call light turned off on them and ignored.”  Ms. Bourke laments that most of the residents who died were not terminal patients.  

The previously cited article by the Democrat and Chronicle stated that Ms. Bourke said she observed that staff at the nursing home “get word whenever the Department of Health is on the way so they then are on their best behavior.”  According to the Orleans Hub, Ms. Albone said that “it is suspected the nursing director gets tipped off about an inspection from the State Department of Health.”  

It remains unclear whether residents and their families will be able to hold The Villages accountable.   According to the New York Times’ May 13, 2020 article titled, “Nursing Homes Are Hot Spots in the Crisis.  But Don’t Try Suing Them”, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently signed the Emergency Disaster Treatment Protection Act, which shields nursing homes from lawsuits over their failure to protect residents from death or sickness caused by the coronavirus.  

Also unclear is the extent to which the State of New York caused or contributed to the deaths at The Villages.  The New York Times reported that Governor Cuomo issued a directive on March 25 “that required nursing homes to take COVID-19 patients from hospitals” and loosened record-keeping requirements for patient care.  The Wall Street Journal on May 15, 2020 reported that the directive said that “patients referred from a hospital couldn’t be denied admission or readmission to a nursing home ‘based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of Covid-19’ and that the nursing homes couldn’t require incoming patients to be tested.”  According to the Wall Street Journal, “Nursing-home groups and doctors warned about potential effects.  AMDA, the Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, said admitting infected patients represented a “clear and present danger” to nursing-home residents.”  Christopher Laxton, AMDA’s executive director, said, “that he is ‘completely convinced there has been a higher level of spread in nursing homes, and both acute illness and death, because of’ the New York directive.”

What is clear is that New York’s nursing home residents have suffered disproportionately during the COVID-19 pandemic.  If you have a loved one in a nursing home and have concerns about the care being provided, we can discuss your options with you in a free consultation.

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