VALATIE — Allegations of administrators at the Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing at Barnwell transferring residents near death, giving misleading addresses and failing to notify families have caught the attention of the Columbia County Department of Health.
Barnwell is trying to avoid responsibility for resident deaths from COVID-19, county Department of Health Director Jack Mabb said Tuesday.
Thirteen Barnwell residents have died of COVID-19, Columbia County health officials confirmed Wednesday.
The facility is home to the largest outbreak in the region, with 121 residents testing positive, 15 of whom were hospitalized with the virus as of Tuesday afternoon.
Barnwell is using evasive tactics to minimize its death toll, Mabb said.
After a period of failing to report deaths to county health officials, Barnwell administrators reported one death from COVID-19 as of Friday.
“Barnwell is trying to avoid any kind of association with the folks that are dying in their home, to the point where last week they were reportedly telling the rescue squad people the home addresses of the people rather than acknowledging that they were Barnwell people,” he said.
Hospital emergency departments have raised concerns about Barnwell transfers with the Columbia County Department of Health, Mabb said.
An emergency department worker reached out to county officials after a Barnwell resident was sent to the hospital on the verge of death Tuesday.
“[The emergency department worker] questioned why they sent this person, who was so close to death. They didn’t understand why they didn’t just let them die in place,” Mabb said.
Barnwell residents have been transferred to Columbia Memorial Hospital, Albany Medical Center and St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany since the outbreak was first detected in late April.
Mabb has spoken with Barnwell Administrator Isaac Spilman about the facility’s underreporting of COVID-19 deaths.
“I said, ‘You can’t disown people,’” Mabb said, adding he thinks Barnwell management may be shirking responsibility to avoid negative publicity.
Spilman did not respond to repeated requests for comment on Wednesday.
Jay Lawrence, director of corporate business development for the Grand Healthcare System, which owns Barnwell and 15 other nursing homes in the state, has previously acknowledged that there is a discrepancy in the way the county and the facility report COVID-19 deaths.
Lawrence did not respond to repeated requests for comment on Wednesday.
Mabb’s comments, made during a virtual meeting with the Columbia County Health and Human Services Committee, follow weeks of criticism of Barnwell’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic from the family members of residents.
The facility previously came under fire for its decision to transfer 37 residents to other locations, in some instances failing to notify family members of the move.
A total of 35 Barnwell residents who tested negative for COVID-19 were transferred to nursing homes in Long Island, Rome and Pawling on May 11, and two additional residents were returned to their homes.
Tammy Nunez, of Duanesburg, said her father, who was at Barnwell for rehabilitation, was sent home without warning on May 11.
“I have no medical scripts, no idea what to do with him. They left him high and dry,” said Nunez, who added her father is wheelchair-bound and cannot perform daily functions.
Nunez said she did not sign off on the move, even though she is her father’s health care proxy and power of attorney.
Barnwell workers initially told Nunez’s father that he would be sent to the Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing at South Point in Long Island, but he became enraged and threatened to call the police, Nunez said.
Nunez’s father had a cell phone at the facility and he called to tell her about the move — the first time she had heard about it.
Barnwell staff members called Nunez on the morning of the transfer, giving her little time to prepare for her father’s arrival.
“If he didn’t have a cell phone, I would not have known if he was sent home or if he was sent to Long Island,” she said.
Nunez said her father told her the Barnwell staff was preparing residents and packing boxes the week before the transfers were carried out.
“Why were we told at the last minute?” she said.