Ghent administrator defends testing policy

Bill Williams/Columbia-Greene Media Ghent Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Ghent.

GHENT — County officials and administrators at one area care facility are at odds over COVID-19 testing policies.

Ghent Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, formerly known as the Whittier, will test about a third of its residents for coronavirus beginning on Friday, Ghent Administrator Frank K. Yeboah said Thursday.

Ghent Nursing has not performed mass testing on its resident population until now, unlike the other nursing homes in Columbia County, where testing has turned up more than 150 cases.

As the COVID-19 pandemic intensified, widespread testing was conducted at nursing homes around Greene and Columbia counties. Several care facilities, including the FASNY Firemen’s Home in Hudson and The Eliot at Catskill, worked with county health officials to perform proactive testing on residents.

Columbia County health officials are concerned that coronavirus infections may be lurking undetected at Ghent Nursing.

“Some of the staff from Whittier are going and getting tested and they do have positives there. And I have to think that if they have positive staff, they have positive residents,” Columbia County Department of Health Director Jack Mabb said.

Yeboah called Mabb’s account “totally false” and said no staff members have tested positive.

“I don’t know where they got that information, but not one employee or resident has tested positive,” he said. “If any employees are tested, we have them self-monitor and as a condition to come back, they have to communicate their results to us with evidence that they are negative.”

Ghent Nursing has been absent from the list of local facilities reporting their coronavirus positives and more testing is needed to provide a “complete picture” of the situation there, said Canaan Town Supervisor Brenda Adams, a member of the Columbia County Health and Human Services Committee, on Thursday.

Testing is not mandated by the state and therefore requires the consent of residents, Yeboah said.

Only residents who request testing will receive it, he said.

“I have asked my nurse managers to reach out to family members, proxies, guardians to ask if they want their loved ones tested. The majority say no, under no circumstances do they want their loved ones tested,” Yeboah said.

About 45 residents who opted for COVID-19 testing will be tested using a portion of the 120 testing kits that Ghent Nursing requested and received from the Columbia County Department of Health on May 15, he said.

Yeboah said any family member of a Ghent Nursing resident can call 518-828-0800 to request testing.

Columbia County officials made 180 testing kits available to the facility earlier this month, but those tests were later refused by administrators, according to a statement released by the county on May 12.

Ghent Assisted Living, located next door to Ghent Nursing, offered testing to all 80 of its residents on May 14, Administrator Meghan Kelley said last Friday.

Kelley requested 20 kits from the Columbia County Department of Health at that time to test residents who requested it.

All the results of those initial tests came back negative, Kelley said Thursday.

Ghent Assisted Living continues to offer testing for its residents by request and has enough testing kits for all 80 residents, Kelley said.

Mabb said he believes the lack of proactive testing at Ghent Nursing and Ghent Assisted Living is a result of corporate, not local, decision-making.

The facilities are owned by Personal Healthcare LLC, a company that owns and operates more than a half dozen nursing homes in New York and Massachusetts. Whittier Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center was sold to Personal Healthcare for $12 million in 2016, according to state documents.

Attempts to reach Personal Healthcare and its CEO Ephraim Zagelbaum, who is listed as a 50% owner of Ghent Nursing on state documents, were unsuccessful.

Nora Mishanec is a reporter for Columbia-Greene Media. She can be reached at nmishanec@columbiagreenemedia.com or 518-828-1616 ext. 2500.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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