The grieving family of 77-year-old Ellen E. Booker, who died of Covid-19 on Friday in a Cheektowaga nursing home, called on the state Health Department to publicly identify nursing homes where the virus has spread and disclose the number of cases at each facility.
Under pressure from the family and media, the McGuire Group on Tuesday released the number of novel coronavirus cases at Garden Gate Health Care Facility, where Booker lived, and at two of its other local nursing homes that have reported cases.
Forty-two residents are infected with the virus at Garden Gate, 46 at Harris Hill and 23 at Seneca Health Care Center. The McGuire Group reported no cases at its Autumn View Health Care Facility and Northgate Health Care Facility.
State officials also appear poised to reverse their policy of not identifying nursing homes where Covid-19 cases have occurred.
The officials indicated Tuesday that they are developing a plan to publicly release the names of those nursing homes. But details of when and how that will happen were not released.
As of Tuesday, 2,200 nursing home residents across the state died from the virus, an increase of more than 750 since Booker died.
The state Health Department also reported 346 nursing homes have a total of 5,894 coronavirus cases. As of last Friday, 319 facilities had a total of 4,630 cases.
If New York State identifies nursing homes with Covid-19 cases, it will follow the lead of other states, including Connecticut, Ohio, and Rhode Island. Los Angeles County is also releasing such information.
The first indication that the state may change course came during Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s briefing earlier Tuesday. His long-time adviser Dr. James Malatras said a review of nursing home virus statistics was underway to address privacy concerns.
“We just want to go through the data and make sure we’re not releasing any potential personal information, and as soon as that’s done, that will be made available for people,” said Malatras, president of SUNY Empire State College.
Advocates for nursing home residents have also called on the state to identify facilities with cases of the virus so that the public can be aware of potential dangers.
“The failure to ensure that residents, families and the public are informed about Covid-19 cases in our nursing homes and adult homes has only served to raise alarm and panic in communities across the state,” said Richard J. Mollot, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition in New York City.
The Booker family dealt with conflicting information from Garden Gate on whether Ellen Booker, a former Hamburg resident, was infected and also a lack of information on her condition and what was being done to protect her and other residents, according to a family spokeswoman. That's what prompted the family to call on the state to change its policy.
“When I finally got through to my grandmother last week, they brought her to the phone at the nursing station and she couldn’t even speak," said Keely Booker, a granddaughter. "I asked her how she was doing. Her words were muffled, they weren’t even words.”
McGuire Group spokeswoman Dawn M. Harsch said staff members at all of its facilities "maintain continuous communication with our residents and their family members."
But the Bookers and other families with residents in area nursing homes and assisted living facilities have complained to The News about a lack of information pertaining to Covid-19 cases.
“I waited Saturday for an update on my mom at Garden Gate and they left me on hold for 15 minutes," said Donna Lee of her mother Barbara Celotto, who had previously tested positive for the coronavirus. "The next time I heard from them was later that night to tell me they were sending her to Buffalo General.”
Lee said her mother, who has a heart condition and a form of blood cancer, was supposed to be transferred to Buffalo General Medical Center if she consumed five units of oxygen.
“The emergency room doctor told me she came in at six units. How neglectful," Lee said. "Thank God she is responding well to treatment and is currently out of the intensive care unit. When will this end? What are they hiding?”
Keely Booker said that her father was notified on Tuesday of last week by Garden Gate that his mother had tested positive for Covid-19.
“About 10 minutes later, he received a call from a social worker at Garden Gate who told him that they were doing everything to prevent her from getting the virus, even though he had just received a call telling him that she had it," she said. "I believe they were trying to cover it up.”
Asked to respond to the Keely Booker's statement, Harsch issued this statement:
"We can confirm that she was Covid positive and passed away at Garden Gate. As with all of our residents, Ellen was like family to our staff and we mourn her loss.”
The News has requested the number of deaths from Covid-19 at Garden Gate but has not received a response.
Buffalo News Albany bureau chief Tom Precious contributed to this story