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State help won't reach Newfane nursing home until next week

A state delegation will arrive Monday or Tuesday at Newfane Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, where as many as 15 residents have died from an outbreak of the Covid-19 virus and the staff has been described as "overwhelmed."

Newfane Supervisor Timothy R. Horanburg said Thursday that a doctor in the state Health Department called him with the news of the state delegation.

"They'll do what they can to help them," Horanburg said. "I think they're going to do testing."

[Related: Newfane nursing home becomes tragic Covid-19 hot spot]

Horanburg said he got action by calling his contacts in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office. He developed those contacts during the Lake Ontario flooding crises of 2017 and 2019.

"That really helped move things along," Horanburg said.

Newfane Rehab employees referred requests for comment to Maximus Healthcare Group of Hickory, N.C., the nursing home's owner.

Maximus has not responded to telephone and email requests for comment from The Buffalo News. It has posted nothing about the outbreak on its websites or its Facebook page.

Nursing homes have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. By the end of April, nursing home residents accounted for one in five Covid-19 deaths. In Erie County, it was more than one in three, according to a Buffalo News analysis of state Health Department data.

Counties have no regulatory jurisdiction over nursing homes, but Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton said his department is doing what it can to help the 165-bed Newfane facility by providing test kits and personal protective equipment from its own supplies.

"We do think the response from the state has been very slow," Stapleton said. "Because we want to help in any way we can – we know this is a vulnerable population – we've gone above and beyond in providing PPE for multiple nursing homes, not just Newfane. We know we don't have the jurisdiction, but we will not be aware of these increasing infection rates and not respond to them."

He said "well over 100 test kits" were sent to Newfane Rehab, and all patients have been tested.

"We're continuing to test staff, a lot of them on a daily basis," Stapleton said.

Horanburg said the state Health Department intends to take over testing Monday or Tuesday.

"In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, DOH continues to proactively allocate critical resources to nursing homes, which includes DOH employees testing residents and staff to help protect this susceptible population," Health Department spokesman Jeffrey Hammond said in an email.

"DOH has also launched multiple unannounced COVID-19 focus inspections at nursing homes throughout New York State," Hammond said. "DOH will continue to work with administrators of all nursing homes to do everything possible to protect the health, well-being and privacy of the residents who call these facilities home.”

Since March 1, the state's Division of Nursing Homes surveillance team has conducted infection control focus surveys at 86 nursing homes and 68 adult care facilities. It has made 744 calls to assess their ability to provide quality care and opened 2,731 complaint investigations, the Health Department said.

Horanburg said 11 death certificates citing Covid-19 as a cause of death have been received at Town Hall from Newfane Rehab in the past seven days.

The state Health Department updated its website Thursday to show nine confirmed and six suspected Covid-19 deaths at Newfane Rehab.

There were no new Covid-19 deaths at any other Niagara County nursing homes since the state's previous update Sunday.

It showed four deaths at Niagara Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Niagara Falls, three at Our Lady of Peace in Lewiston, and one each at Schoellkopf Health Center in Niagara Falls and Elderwood at Lockport.

"I'm concerned that there'll be continuing deaths throughout Niagara County, but we're really concerned about the numbers we're seeing, (at) nursing homes, especially," Stapleton said. "We do have a number of nursing homes in Niagara County where we're definitely seeing increasing infection rates."

He declined to comment on specific nursing homes.

As of Tuesday, the state Health Department said 4,105 people had been tested for the virus in Niagara County, with 13.4% testing positive.

Stapleton said 120 to 150 people per day are being tested at the state's appointment-only testing site at Niagara County Community College in Sanborn. That operation will stay open as long as possible, he said.

"We've been delivering test kits to doctors' offices, nursing homes, so it's natural that you'll see more positives because we're doing more testing," Stapleton said.

The Community Health Center of Niagara and a Rite Aid store in Niagara Falls plan to begin testing in the next few days.

The county announced 21 newly confirmed cases of Covid-19 on Thursday, but only two of them were in the Town of Newfane, bringing its total to 88. Last Wednesday, the town had only 25 cases, and Stapleton said Wednesday that 70% to 80% of the cases in the town were at the nursing home.

The countywide total is now 640, with 42 deaths. The four newest victims listed in Thursday's report were a 51-year-old man and women aged 61, 64 and 95. All four had pre-existing health conditions before catching Covid-19.

Thursday's report said 21 Niagara County residents are hospitalized with Covid-19, 266 are isolated at home and 311 have recovered.

Newfane nursing home becomes tragic Covid-19 hot spot

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