The Cooperstown Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing is closed to visitors for 14 days due to an employee testing positive for COVID.
Due to the Delta variant of COVID, cases are on the rise throughout the country. As of Thursday, July 29, there are 26 active cases in Otsego County with a 1.5% seven day average, according to the Otsego County Department of Mental Health.
The Otsego County Department of Health encourages anyone who has not been vaccinated to get the vaccine as the Delta variant affects the unvaccinated the most adversely.
By MICHAEL FORSTER ROTHBART • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
On Monday morning, March 23, 2020, Otsego County confirmed its first case of coronavirus at a Fox clinic in Oneonta. Just three days later, the county recorded the first COVID-19 death.
Now, one year later, there have been over 3,500 positive cases here; 54 county residents have died from COVID-19 and related complications. At least eight former local residents are also known to have died from the virus. The deceased ranged in age from 55 to 103, with more women than men dying of COVID.
In tribute to the lives lost, are brief profiles of the fatalities identified in public records. Other families have chosen to keep the deaths anonymous.
When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is consistent – politicians are placing blame for the effects of the virus at the feet of other politicians, policymakers and providers, but nobody is focusing blame for the consequences of the virus where it truly belongs, with:
• The virus itself
• The state’s “hospital-centric” approach to combatting the virus and
• Historic underfunding of long-term care.
At the onset of the pandemic, the State of New York failed to immediately focus fully on the needs of nursing homes, and instead implemented a “hospital-centric” approach that led to limited access to testing, extensive staffing and PPE shortages in nursing homes.
The COVID-19 virus first appeared in the United States at a nursing home in Washington State, with devastating consequences. New York disregarded this fact and implemented a “hospital-centric” approach to combatting the virus, instead of looking at the people who were most susceptible to the COVID-19 virus – namely nursing-home residents.
New York’s “hospital-centric” approach focused the state’s limited resources on hospital-based solutions such as the Javits Center and the USS Comfort, that ultimately proved to be ill-advised, while nursing homes throughout New York State were left scrambling to safeguard their residents and staff.
Almost 80 percent of New York State’s nursing home resident care is paid for by Medicaid. The state has cut Medicaid reimbursement to nursing homes for over 12 years in a row – creating a reimbursement void that was only exacerbated by the state’s primary focus on hospitals through-out the pandemic!
The statewide average cost of providing around-the-clock nursing home care is $266. However, the statewide average Medicaid reimbursement for 24-hour care is $211, resulting in nursing homes being reimbursed $8.79 per hour to care for our most vulnerable! Most folks pay their babysitter more than $8.79 per hour!
Policymakers and legislators must stop the blame game, work in partnership with nursing home providers and view long-term care as an investment not an expense. Nursing homes are highly regulated providers that are essential in ensuring critical care to the State’s most vulnerable residents.
By State Sen. JIM SEWARD • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Nursing home policies in New York State have been under the microscope throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and a number of significant concerns remain.
Back in July, after months of silence and inaction, Democrats finally heeded the call to hold legislative hearings.
Unfortunately, the Senate Investigations Committee refused to issue even a single subpoena to compel documents and testimony from the Cuomo Administration or state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.
While Commissioner Zucker took part in one hearing, he failed to answer a number of questions and did not provide accurate facts and figures regarding the number of nursing home residents who passed away during the pandemic. The commissioner avoided a second hearing entirely.
The lack of transparency is appalling and, certainly, not what grieving families deserve.
One major concern the commissioner was questioned on during the hearing centered on nursing-home visitation policies. Loved ones and facility staff who testified at the hearings discussed the negative and severe physical and mental health impacts the lack of visitation was having on residents. The testimony was heartbreaking in many instances.
For months, all visits to nursing homes were prohibited. Then in July, limited visitations were finally allowed as long as a number of conditions were met.
Unfortunately, the extremely stringent guidelines still made it nearly impossible for family members to visit their loved ones, continuing the isolation for many.
Finally, after repeated pleas, the guidelines were updated on Sept. 15. However, there are still major roadblocks in place.
Under the altered guidelines from the Department of Health, nursing homes are allowing limited visitation to resume for facilities that have been without COVID-19 for at last 14 days. That is down from the previous rule of 28 days, a benchmark that most facilities in the state were unable to reach.
The Department of Health boasted that the new rule would open limited visitation to about 500 of the state’s over 600 facilities.
However, here’s the rub, the new guidelines include a major hurdle – in implement-
ing the new guidance, the state also added a new layer of rules, prohibiting those under 18 from visiting and requiring visitors to have a negative COVID-19 test result within seven days of their visit even if the visit is to be safely distanced outdoors.
The testing requirement is particularly onerous for loved ones; as a result, times across the state vary significantly, with many New Yorkers currently waiting 10 days or more to receive their test results.
Immediately upon the release of the new guidelines, family members began contacting my office, pointing out the problematic fine print. Tests can be difficult to come by, there are many individuals who cannot afford them, and results take time to receive.
Many family members, who previously met with nursing home residents outdoors, were forced to cancel upcoming visits due to the new guidelines.
The health and well-being of nursing home residents must be a top priority. However, we need to formulate a procedure that will allow safe visitations to occur. We also know that a negative test from a week ago, or even a day ago, does not ensure protection for the residents or staff of a facility.
There is a rapid test available that can instantly alert a visitor and nursing home staff to a COVID-positive result in a matter of minutes. Access to this test for nursing home visitors would be a game changer. By utilizing the 15-minute test currently approved by the FDA, a visitor could be checked upon arrival to a nursing home and know almost immediately
if it is safe to enter.
One person who wrote me put it this way: “Nursing home visits are essential for the elderly. They are at the end of their lives.”
The Department of Health needs to step up and provide nursing homes with the rapid tests so that visitors can safely visit their loved ones while adhering to the new mandates.
News that Centers Health Care has raised the private-payer rate at the former county-owned Otsego Manor from $300 to $510 a day – $186,000 a year, the state’s highest – is almost too sad to contemplate.
Gary Koutnik, county board vice chairman and chair of the board’s Human Service Committee, reacted with the standard response: Since the once-excellent facility is privatized, what happens at Centers, nee Focus, is no longer the county board’s business.
That would not be satisfactory, except – given the Balkanized nature of the county board, 14 reps chosen from tiny constituencies – the county board can be non-responsive and get away with it.
Even given that reality, washing their collective 14 sets of hands is not satisfactory.
Within the bowels of county government, someone needs to develop expertise to do what can be done to ensure our elderly’s health needs are being met.
Right now, the only oversight at Centers is a volunteer family council.
Knowledge is power, and county government needs to assign someone to develop the knowledge to assure the least damage possible is done to the most vulnerable