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Six NYC nursing homes become ‘COVID only’ facilities

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Six New York City nursing homes that logged high death rates at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic are now designated as special “COVID only” facilities.

The homes are among 19 across the state to get the designation from the state Department of Health, which has largely kept mum on the program.

They include the Plaza Rehab and Nursing Center in the Bronx, where 91 residents have died of COVID-19; the Hebrew Home in Riverdale with 86 resident deaths; and the New Jewish Home in Manhattan with 76 deaths. The deaths mostly occurred from March to May.

The others are the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center in Manhattan, which has had 56 deaths; the Sea Crest Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Brooklyn with 58; and the Beach Garden Rehab and Nursing Center in Queens with 29.

The “COVID-only” designation helps the facilities, which get a boost to their state Medicaid reimbursement rates for each infected patient, and have a way to fill beds after seeing their occupancy rates decline due to coronavirus deaths or from a drop in those seeking rehabilitation services.

Jerry Woloz, 79, visits with family via a tablet at The Hebrew Home at Riverdale in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020.
Jerry Woloz, 79, visits with family via a tablet at The Hebrew Home at Riverdale in New York on Dec. 9, 2020.
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

The program allows those who continue to test positive for the coronavirus, but may not necessarily be sick, to leave the hospital. Under a May 10 state order, COVID-19 patients cannot go to regular nursing homes until they test negative.

The May 10 order reversed a controversial March 25 directive that said the facilities had to accept COVID-19 patients — something critics blame for worsening the high virus death toll in nursing homes.

Richard Mollot, the head of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, an advocacy group, said the state needed to be more forthcoming about the COVID-only homes.

“There’s no transparency as to what the facilities are. How were those facilities vetted and selected?” he said.

Mollot said he’d been told some COVID-only nursing homes even transferred patients to other facilities, sometimes with no notice to families, to make room for those with the virus.

The Plaza West Rehab & Nursing Center at 100 West Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx.
The Plaza West Rehab & Nursing Center at 100 West Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx.
BRIGITTE STELZER

The nursing homes voluntarily sought out the “COVID-only” designation, said state officials, acknowledging some may have sent residents to other homes.

“Each operator and facility was closely vetted against a backdrop of community need, quality and infection control protocols and operational ability. This continues to be an important tool to help keep beds in acute care hospitals available for patients with acute care needs,” said Gary Holmes, a Department of Health spokesman.

Sandra Mundy, the head of the The New Jewish Home, said it had empty beds and turned one building on its Manhattan Valley campus to a dedicated 100-bed COVID-19 facility with its own staff and entrance.

The New Jewish Homes’ patients mainly come for short-term rehabilitation before returning home, she said.

“COVID takes its toll on people,” she said.

She said a DOH staff member surveyed her facility before it could open in January, and the state took into account its fatality rate.

“The number of deaths is not surprising considering we’re dealing with a pandemic … and we deal with the most fragile population that is the most likely to succumb to it,” Mundy said.

She said most of the patients treated in the program are not Medicaid recipients, so the home was not getting any additional reimbursements.

The 751-bed Hebrew Home, which was forced last year to close several units and lay off staffers, turned two floors in one of its buildings into a COVID-19 recovery unit with about 80 patients, according to an insider.

Staff in the unit do not go into the rest of the facility and even have their own cafeteria, the insider said.

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