Staffers say NYC nursing home is covering up coronavirus deaths

More than 110 people have died at the Hebrew Home in Riverdale in just two months — many with suspected COVID-19 symptoms but not appearing in official state tallies — and whistleblowers at the facility claim it’s a cover-up.

While the nursing home said 25 residents died at the home, or in hospitals, from confirmed and suspected COVID-19 in March and April, two insiders told The Post that 119 residents have died in the home alone in those two months.

The state Department of Health, meanwhile, lists only 18 deaths at the home as of May 8. The state does not include nursing-home residents who die in hospitals in its official count.

The staff was also ravaged — with at least 71 workers confirmed to have the virus, documents reviewed by The Post show.

There were 11 resident deaths on two days alone in April, according to internal records seen by The Post which did not list the cause of death. That two-day total was higher than the nine residents who died in all of January, two insiders said.

In April, 84 people died at the nursing home and 35 succumbed in March, the insiders said. There were so many bodies that an empty building on campus, the Catholic church’s former Cardinal Spellman Retreat House, was turned into a temporary morgue, the sources said.

“Was it just an extremely unlucky period? Or is there some other explanation for what’s going on? It’s obvious that there is,” one insider said, suggesting most of the 119 deaths were coronavirus-related. If true, the body count would far surpass that of any virus-ravaged nursing home in the state.

The other insider said that the nursing home was scared to report the true numbers to the state “because everyone will assume the worst.”

The sources said the home is barely testing residents, claiming it won’t change the treatment plan. But the lack of test results also allows the home to say it doesn’t have a confirmed coronavirus case when someone dies.

One insider said administrators were “terrified about what the future is going to hold for them” if the large body count got out and impacted getting new residents. The home heavily advertises on radio.

With 751 beds, the facility is the largest private nursing home in the state. The Isabella Geriatric Center in Manhattan, with 705 beds, has reported 67 COVID-19 deaths at its home. The 527-bed Parker Jewish nursing home in Queens had 75.

The Post has learned that the Hebrew Home is under probe after a complaint was made to the state Labor Department about non-clinical staff being mandated to come in, the insiders said, noting the investigation had been forwarded to the state Attorney General.

The AG’s office said it was “aware of allegations at this facility, and are looking into them.” The office declined to comment further about whether it was probing the labor complaints, the under reporting of the deaths or both.

Hebrew Home records reviewed by The Post showed that the coronavirus was rampant in the facility.

At least 41 residents tested positive for the bug from March 18 to May 6, according to daily memos sent to staff by Dr. Zachary Palace, the medical director. The memos make clear that some were sent to the hospital and tested there.

The toll among staff members was worse with the virus hitting a doctor, a nurse, aides, employees who work in the recreation department and those in human resources.

“I think they done some good things but I think this lack of transparency is one of the worst things they’ve done,” one insider said.

Gov. Cuomo has said nursing homes submit fatality numbers to the DOH “under penalty of perjury.”

“You violate, you commit fraud, that is a criminal offense, period. So they can be prosecuted criminally for fraud on any of these reporting numbers,” he said.

The state DOH numbers, however, have been far from the reality — the Hebrew Home up until last week showed zero deaths on the official state list of fatalities, The Post has reported.

A spokeswoman for the nursing home said it “complied with all New York State Department of Health regulations and guidelines.”

“The Hebrew Home stands by its transparent communications and reporting of suspected and confirmed covid cases and deaths,” said spokeswoman Wendy Steinberg.

“From the earliest moments of this crisis, we created three independent covid recovery floors to help protect this vulnerable population and help them to heal so that hospitals could tend to sicker patients.  The second morgue on our South Campus opened to provide deceased residents with dignity and respect because funeral homes did not have the capacity to handle the volume of deaths in New York City.”

Under a controversial state policy, the nursing home was mandated by the state to take recovering COVID-19 patients from hospitals, and Hebrew Home set up a separate ward for them that opened in early April.

Another nursing home may also be hiding deaths.

State tallies for the Cold Spring Hills Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Woodbury, LI show 20 deaths but the reality may be near 90, said Tyrone Blackburn, a lawyer representing four Haitian nurses in a discrimination case against the facility.

He claims they have an “unrefrigerated makeshift morgue” in the basement of a building. He provided  a screenshot of an email from administrator Yossi Emanuel that talked about taking a body to the basement. Blackburn client Myriam Durand, a nurse currently assigned elsewhere due to her pending litigation, said she filed a complaint with the state DOH.

Emanuel declined comment Friday.

The DOH confirmed it had received a complaint about the makeshift morgue and had launched an “unannounced COVID-19 focus investigation at this facility on May 6…. The investigation is ongoing.”

Additional reporting by Dean Balsamini

Source: Read Full Article