CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly characterized the type of assistance Livingston County sought from the state Department of Health to help prevent an increase in positive COVID-19 cases at the Avon Nursing Home.
AVON – Three staff members and two residents at the Avon Nursing Home have tested positive for COVID-19 since the virus was first detected in Livingston County March 19, County Administrator Ian Coyle confirmed during a Monday evening phone interview.
One of the two residents, a woman in her 80s whose positive test was announced by the county’s Department of Health April 3, died three days later on April 6.
She was the second county resident to die from the disease and had “underlying health issues,” according to the Department of Health.
As of Tuesday morning, 37 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the county while three deaths had been attributed to the disease.
The 40-bed Avon Nursing Home is one of 13 skilled nursing facilities owned and operated by Hurlbut Care Communities. A company spokesperson declined to comment Monday afternoon, but provided a statement from CEO Robert Hurlbut.
“Hurlbut Care Communities has been notified by several county (offices of emergency management) where we have facilities, that they will not be getting any more personal protective equipment (PPE) for the foreseeable future and therefore no one in our area will receive them either,” read the statement. “All supplies are now controlled by the state and being funneled to New York City. This latest development is another example of how Governor Cuomo is putting downstate first and neglecting the needs of at-risk seniors in our area.”
Coyle said he’s fielded calls from the public which led him to believe nursing home staff have notified residents’ families of the positive COVID-19 tests.
Hurlbut also owns the Conesus Lake Nursing Home in Lakeville.
“I have no knowledge of any confirmed cases at Conesus Lake Nursing Home,” said Coyle.
No residents of the county-owned and operated Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Mount Morris have tested positive for the virus, Coyle said Tuesday.
Coyle’s confirmations followed the state Department of Health’s release Monday afternoon of figures on COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes in New York. The department provided figures on total deaths by county, but did not disclose how many residents died at specific nursing homes within a county.
The state’s disclosure was met with approval by The Center for Elder Law & Justice, a non-profit that provides free legal assistance to elderly people in Western New York.
While praising the disclosure as a good “first step,” the Center for Elder Law & Justice said in a statement Monday it wants the state “to fully disclose the status of COVID-19 cases in New York State nursing homes and adult care facilities.”
“This is a public health necessity and key to properly gauging the problem, raising awareness, and directing resources where they are most needed,” said the center, a non-profit that provides free legal assistance to elderly people in Western New York. “The disclosure of the number of positive cases and facility names does not violate HIPAA, nor does it infringe upon resident privacy rights. Our agency will continue to fight for this next step in ensuring our most vulnerable members of society remain safe and receive proper care.”
According to the state Department of Health, 1,979 nursing home residents in New York had died of COVID-19 as of April 12 – about 20 percent of all the deaths attributed to the virus in the state.
Hornell Gardens, a Hurlbut-owned nursing home in the city of Hornell, Steuben County, has been a hotbed of COVID-19 infections in recent days and weeks.
Mass testing of residents and staff at the nursing home, undertaken with the assistance of the state Department Of Health last week, identified 46 new positive cases of the virus, according to The Evening Tribune, a daily newspaper based in Hornell.
According to the Tribune, more than 140 Steuben County residents had tested positive for the virus as of April 10.
As of April 12, 11 Steuben County residents had died of COVID-19-related causes – most of them residents of Hornell-area nursing homes, according to the Tribune.
Coyle said he’s aware of the situation in Hornell and how rapidly the virus has spread there and is concerned of a similar series of event playing out in Avon.
To head off a ballooning cluster of infections before it can start, Coyle said the county’s asked the state Department of Health to supply the nursing home with additional resources and is “waiting to hear” back.
“They’re the regulatory body” said Coyle. “We would contemplate, if we could do anything at the local level, but we don’t regulate a private nursing home. New York State does.”
Lack of PPE has been a factor at Hornell Gardens. According to reporting from the Star-Gazette, a daily newspaper based in Elmira, Chemung County, staff at the nursing home have complained of having to share and reuse PPE after interacting with COVID-19 positive residents.
One nurse said she was fired after speaking out on the matter, according to the Star-Gazette.
Coyle said Livingston County has fielded, and fulfilled, two requests for PPE from the Avon Nursing Home in recent weeks.
The nursing home made its first request March 31 for 50 gowns, one case of hand sanitizer, two cases of disinfecting spray and 40 N95 masks.
It made its second request April 9 for 450 gowns, one case of hand sanitizer and 500 surgical masks.
Given the prevalence of COVID-19 cases affiliated with the Avon Nursing Home, and the at-risk nature of the people who live there - “You’ve got the most vulnerable population there. They’re sitting ducks,” - Coyle said he’s hopeful the state comes through with additional PPE and a plan to test residents and staff to the greatest extent possible.
“If I had three, four, five cases in a nursing home and it looked like a growth pattern there, I would want and desire any and all state, department of health resources to assist,” Coyle said. “What that means, to me, is test everybody that you can. Test everybody so you can... isolate, mitigate, control so you’re not just playing guessing games with people...”