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Family of NY nursing home residents lost to COVID testify to woe

Relatives of New York nursing home residents Monday blasted the conditions that drove the facilities’ coronavirus hell — including Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s directive barring the refusal of COVID-positive patients.

“The COVID crisis in New York’s nursing homes was a preventable crisis,” Jerry Maldonado testified before a joint hearing of state lawmakers via video-conference.

“It was fueled by poor public policy decisions, like the Department of Health’s March 25 directive.”

That order barred nursing homes from turning away COVID-positive patients, even as Cuomo in press briefings repeatedly likened the bug’s effect on the elderly to fire in dry grass.

“In a cruel twist of fate, while healthy families like mine were locked out of nursing homes and forced to stay away from our loved ones, my mom was locked into a facility with COVID-positive patients released from a hospital,” testified Maldonado, a Newburgh resident whose 81-year-old mother, Maria, was living in a Rockland County home when the pandemic hit.

Maldonado said that his family and others like it were “kept in the dark” about the policy, as he reached out to workers at his mother’s facility, Northern Metropolitan Residential Healthcare Facility, in late March asking whether the coronavirus had reached the home.

“For nearly two weeks, we got no response,” he testified. “It was only after my mom developed her first COVID symptoms that I confronted the director of nursing and he finally admitted to me that, in his words, he had been forced to admit COVID patients into the facility by the state, and that he could not guarantee that my mom had not been exposed to COVID.”

Cuomo has defended — and continues to defend — the policy by saying that nursing homes always had not just a right, but a responsibility to turn away patients they couldn’t care for.

But the state “did not proactively verify that nursing homes had the ability to safely care for COVID patients before releasing them into these facilities, knowing full well that many of them are understaffed and overcrowded, even on their best day,” Maldonado said.

On April 11, Maldonado’s mother died from complications related to the coronavirus, Maldonado said, becoming one of the more than 6,400 nursing home residents statewide lost in confirmed or presumed cases of the bug.

Virginia Wilson-Butler testified that her aunt, Eva Johnson, received years of substandard care in Bushwick, Brooklyn’s Buena Vida Continuing Care and Rehabilitation Center — a level that hardly improved once the coronavirus hit.

“Finally, from March 2020 to May 4, 2020 — the day she died — Miss Johnson lost 15 pounds, received oxygen on April 21, and an IV fluid with antibiotics,” Wilson-Butler told the panel. “She was diagnosed presumed COVID.”

“X-rays showed pneumonia,” Wilson-Butler continued. “She never had a fever, she never had a cough. In that timeframe, they stated at first, everything with her was normal: Her weight, her eating, her therapy … her bedsore.

“Until all of a sudden, she’s not eating the bedsore got bigger, it doesn’t look good.”

Throughout the ordeal, Wilson-Butler testified that she had great difficulty getting up-to-date information from her aunt’s caretakers.

Wilson-Butler said she was speaking up that another’s loved one won’t have to suffer through the same hardship.

“I can’t help my aunt anymore — rest in peace — but I can help someone else,” she said.

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