What the Department of Health wants nursing facilities to tell residents and families about coronavirus

Living Local

ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) – Over the weekend, the New York State Department of Health issued guidance to adult care facilities and nursing homes, urging them to implement a communication protocol when it comes to COVID-19.

In the guidance, state health officials suggested the same day operators learn of a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case involving someone who has been in the facility, they should inform residents and their families. State Assemblyman Sean Ryan says he believes those facilities are following the guidance.

“Every nursing home should operate as if they just got tests back showing that they have positive staff and they have positive patients,” Ryan said. “Because they probably do.”

The guidance also explicitly tells facilities not to share personal identifying information about those suspected or confirmed to have coronavirus. But the guidance issued does not address what, if anything, facilities should say to the general public.

Ryan said guidelines prevents nursing homes from publicly posting that they have coronavirus in their facilities. But the guidance issued Saturday doesn’t explicitly say that, and many have done just that. For instance, Catholic Health shared that 41 residents and 25 associates at Father Baker Manor in Orchard Park had the disease. Elderwood tells News 4 15 people across its network of facilities have it as well, including 10 at its COVID-19 wing at its Amherst location.

However, The McGuire Group, which operates five skilled nursing facilities in Western New York, would not initially say whether any residents in its facilities have coronavirus.

“(W)e do not comment publicly regarding our residents’ private medical diagnoses,” said McGuire spokesperson Dawn Harsch in an email on Monday.

Late Wednesday though, Harsch told News 4 there are confirmed cases in McGuire’s Garden Gate, Harris Hill, and Seneca locations.

Stephen Hanse, the President and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association-New York State Center For Assisted Living pointed out any information shared should not include the individuals name, or even their sex. But he does believe the public has a right to know.

“I think the most appropriate policy would be to first make sure that the family has been notified, that contact has been made,” Hanse said. “Second, you have notification to other individuals within the facility and their families. And third, to the public at large.”

Richard Mollot, who is the executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, agrees the public should be informed.

“It’s obviously important to residents and to families,” Mollot said. “But it’s also important for the Department of Health. It’s important for state legislators. It’s important for the public to know what is going on. We can’t sweep the coronavirus under the rug.”

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