A New York City nursing home recorded 98 deaths linked to the coronavirus, a staggering death toll that shocked public officials, as it was forced to order a freezer truck to store bodies.
Isabella Geriatric Center in Washington Heights, Manhattan, lost 46 residents confirmed to have COVID-19 and a further 52 residents who were not tested but are suspected to have died from the illness.
If confirmed, the death toll amounts to 14 percent of the residents in the 705-bed home and would make it the largest such coronavirus cluster in the state, according to NY1.
Black tarp was placed across the gates guarding the back of the home last week as a refrigerated truck was brought in to store the overwhelming number of bodies because funeral homes have been taking days to pick up the deceased.
Family members of residents have criticized the home for keeping them in the dark, with the Department of Health listing only 13 coronavirus deaths in the home as of April 30.
The Isabella Geriatric Center in Washington Heights where there have been 98 deaths linked to the coronavirus reported. The death toll amounts to 14 percent of the residents in the home
Black tarp was placed around the back gates of the Isabella Geriatric Center in New York City last week so that the freezer truck being used to the store bodies could not be seen
Residents were still able to capture footage of the freezer truck from the nursing home window
‘It’s absolutely horrifying,’ Mayor Bill de Blasio said. ‘It’s inestimable loss, and it’s just impossible to imagine so many people lost in one place.’
The massive death toll at the center was first reported by NY1 on Thursday which highlighted the discrepancy between the state figure for the home and the real number.
They reported that at least 98 residents of Isabella Geriatric Center have died since the pandemic started. Some died at the nursing home and some died after being treated at hospitals.
Isabella Geriatric Center said it ‘could not speculate’ as to why a state survey previously listed only 13 COVID-19 deaths at its facility.
It sent a lengthy statement to the Associated Press on Friday insisting it ‘truthfully and accurately reported’ its death toll to state officials.
The center also said it had been hampered in trying to prevent a wider outbreak by a lack of testing.
‘Isabella, like all other nursing homes in New York City, initially had limited access to widespread and consistent in-house testing to quickly diagnose our residents and staff,’ Audrey Waters, a spokeswoman for the nursing home, wrote in an email.
The Isabella Geriatric Center says nearly 100 of its residents have died from confirmed or suspected cases the novel coronavirus. It is among the hardest hit nursing homes in the state, with 46 confirmed fatalities and an additional 52 deaths of people suspected to have the virus
Staff pictured wearing face masks at the Isabella Geriatric Center in New York City during the coronavirus pandemic. The center said it encountered staffing shortages and early challenges securing personal protective equipment for employees when the outbreak started
‘This hampered our ability to identify those who were infected and asymptomatic, despite our efforts to swiftly separate anyone who presented symptoms.’
Isabella also encountered staffing shortages, prompting it to hire from outside agencies and early challenges securing personal protective equipment for employees. Waters said the home finally is ‘getting more access to testing’ now.
City officials have called for change after Isabella becomes yet another case of large death rates in New York City nursing homes.
‘The one thing we now know about the nursing homes is the status quo cannot continue to say the least,’ Mayor de Blasio said.
‘Something very different has to happen.’
City officials are ‘trying to provide help in every way we can,’ the mayor added, saying the city had delivered thousands of respirator masks to the Washington Heights facility.
U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, a New York Democrat, accused Isabella of keeping the public and elected officials in the dark about the outbreak.
He sent a letter Friday to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York Attorney General Letitia James urging them to investigate the ‘information sharing practices’ of New York nursing homes.
‘People deserve to know what’s happening,’ Espaillat said in an interview with AP.
U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat sent a letter to Gov. Cuomo Friday calling for an investigation into conditions in New York City nursing homes after another facility reports a large death rate from the coronavirus. Isabella Geriatric Center may have suffered as many as 100 deaths
U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat’s letter in which he expressed concern over the efforts to protect the elderly and those with underlying health conditions from the coronavirus in care homes
Isabella said it kept family members in the loop about changes in their loved ones’ conditions despite the circumstances.
‘When we believe their loved one is nearing death, we do reach out to a resident´s primary contact and ask if they would like to say goodbye in person or via phone or an app,’ Waters said.
‘In-person goodbye visits were never interrupted and continue to happen.’
But family members of residents have claimed they were kept in the dark about the extent of the outbreak at the home and were not provided with enough updates.
‘I don’t understand. They didn’t reach out to us until the last minute to tell us she’s not going to make it. How does that even happen? There was no communication. The nurses station, they wouldn’t pick up the phone, so you had to call over and over again,’ one anonymous family member told NY1.
‘April 6 was just the worst day. It was the worst day.’
Xiomara Garcia-King, who lost her father Toribio Antonio Garcia who was a resident of the home, claimed they were not even told there was an outbreak.
‘They did not inform us that COVID-19 was at the facility. We believe he deteriorated because of their lack of response,’ she said.
‘Again, as my brother Anthony said, so many phone calls I’ve had to make in just one day because my father would press his call button and no one would come and respond.’
Nursing homes have been known since the earliest days of the outbreak as a trouble spot.
They have been particularly hard hit in New York, which has had at least 3,065 nursing home deaths – by far the most in the nation – as of Thursday, according to an Associated Press count.
The state Department of Health said it has received ‘outbreak reports’ from 239 nursing homes, including at least six facilities with death tolls of 40 patients or more.
It is hard to say whether the spate of deaths at the Isabelle Geriatric Center is the worst nursing home outbreak yet in the U.S. because even within the city, facilities have chosen to report fatalities in different ways.
State officials said they are building an updated data set intended to offer a more detailed window into nursing home deaths.
Cuomo referred to a ‘vagueness’ in some reporting of suspected COVID-19 cases but warned nursing homes not to misrepresent their death tolls.
‘They submit these numbers under penalty of perjury,’ Cuomo told reporters. ‘They can be prosecuted criminally for fraud on any of these reporting numbers.’
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