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Nursing homes ordered to take COVID patients

Mercy Living Center In Tupper Lake (Enterprise file photo)

Nursing homes that have been taking extreme measures to keep out COVID-19 are now going to have to accept new residents diagnosed with the virus.

The state Department of Health sent out a notice informing every nursing home of the rule last week.

Mercy Living Center in Tupper Lake, a nursing home is run by Adirondack Health, is “firing on all cylinders” to adapt to this order, spokesman Matt Scollin said Friday.

“We can do it safely and responsibly, and we will because it is a directive, and the right thing to do,” Scollin said.

He said his organization is still working on the specifics of how this will work.

Scollin said this order is only for recovering COVID-19 patients. He said anyone who is very sick and needs a ventilator will be at a hospital instead of a nursing home.

He said there are currently no COVID-19 patients at Adirondack Health facilities. He said he is unsure if this is the “calm before storm” or if social distancing in the Adirondacks is proving effective at slowing the spread.

“We basically do what we’re told to do, as long as it’s clinically safe and in line with our ethics and our responsibility to the communities that we serve,” Scollin said.

In other places, this directive was not greeted with enthusiasm.

At The Pines in Glens Falls, workers found technicalities to refuse two hospital transfers this week. While they found allowable reasons to say no, their real concern was that they don’t believe they have secure facilities to separate those residents from others.

The state’s new rule was the subject of a “very frank” conversation at Monday’s conference call among all local nursing homes, said Fort Hudson CEO Andy Cruikshank.

“We don’t think it’s advisable to do it. However, understanding we are in very peculiar times, I understand the Health Department is trying to respond to the situation as best they can,” he said.

The Health Department is trying to move people out of hospitals quickly as beds fill up with coronavirus patients.

“There is an urgent need to expand hospital capacity in New York state to be able to meet the demand for patients with COVID-19 requiring acute care,” the state said in its letter to nursing homes.

Cruikshank proposed they only require nursing homes to take the patients if the hospital is full, but his suggestion was not accepted.

Elderly patients who are stable, but still recovering from the virus, often need to go to a nursing and rehabilitation home for a period of time before they are able to live independently again.

But deliberately bringing the virus into the nursing home seems to fly in the face of other regulations: Workers are checked for fever at the beginning of each shift and no visitors are allowed.

At Fort Hudson, Cruikshank called a team meeting and explained the situation. They brainstormed solutions and decided to convert the adult day care room — a large recreation area in the basement — into a ward for coronavirus patients. The room is not being used right now because no visitors are allowed in nursing homes.

He got enough volunteers to staff the entire five-bed ward.

“I said, OK, the challenge has been put on our plate; let’s do it the best we can. We immediately had people stepping up,” he said.

It is a significant choice. They will be isolated, too. They will enter through a side door, work only with patients in the coronavirus ward and then immediately leave at the end of their shift.

He plans to outfit them all with N95 masks, gloves, face shields and full body gowns.

AOW, the construction management company that has been working on a yearlong renovation at the nursing home, loaned them equipment to make the ward negative pressure, which keeps the virus from floating out on the air.

The new residents will get all the normal rehabilitation services, but will go to the rehab room at the end of the day, after all other residents have finished their work.

Fort Hudson is trying to take “extraordinary” steps to keep the virus from spreading, he said.

“We’re going to do it very well. People can have confidence” that the virus won’t spread to their loved ones, he said.

Fort Hudson is equipped to take on five patients. So far, they have been notified of one, a local man who is recovering at a local hospital. He is expected to move in when he is stable.

All of the virus-positive patients are local people being transferred from local hospitals, he added.

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