Barnwell death toll hits 15

Bill Williams/Columbia-Greene MediaThe Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing at Barnwell reported that 70 residents and more than 20 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 after extensive testing performed by the state Department of Health. Barnwell recorded its 15th death from the virus over the weekend.

VALATIE — The Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing at Barnwell marked its 15th coronavirus death over the weekend, just days after the state began its second investigation into the facility’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

The state Department of Health launched an unannounced COVID-19 focus investigation into Barnwell’s management of its coronavirus outbreak on May 20, confirmed Jill Montag, a public information officer for the Department of Health. The investigation was continuing as of Tuesday.

Barnwell Administrator Isaac Spilman did not respond to multiple requests for comment Tuesday.

A total of 127 Barnwell residents have tested positive for COVID-19 since the virus was first detected there in late April.

The facility marked its 15th resident death from coronavirus on Sunday, county officials confirmed in a statement.

Barnwell has the largest and deadliest outbreak in the Twin Counties, surpassing Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Philmont, the site of the region’s first coronavirus hot spot.

A previous investigation of Barnwell by the state Department of Health, launched on May 13, found several problems with the level of care provided by the facility.

“Violations included infection control concerns and failure to provide verbal or written notification when a resident at the facility tested positive for COVID-19 or a resident suffered a COVID-19-related death,” Montag said.

Nursing homes are required to notify residents’ family members or next of kin within 24 hours if any resident in the facility tests positive or suffers a COVID-19-related death. Facilities that do not comply with the directive are required to pay a penalty of $2,000 per violation per day, according to an executive order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on April 17.

State officials could not confirm whether Barnwell has been fined for failing to notify family members.

Jay Lawrence, director of corporate business development for The Grand Healthcare System, which operates Barnwell, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

As a result of the state Department of Health’s findings from its first investigation, Barnwell must submit a plan of correction to address the identified concerns, Montag said.

Barnwell paid more than $17,000 in federal fines in 2019 after receiving health citations at inspections performed in June and August of last year, according to Barnwell’s profile on the Medicare website.

Barnwell is one of hundreds of nursing homes statewide struggling to contain coronavirus outbreaks. More than 5,300 people have died of the virus in nursing homes and adult-care facilities, which accounts for one in every five deaths in the state, according to data released by the state Department of Health on Sunday.

State lawmakers, already under fire for their slow response to the coronavirus crisis in care facilities, are facing scrutiny over the nursing home death toll, which officials said could be much higher than reported.

Under current policies, nursing homes and adult-care facilities must self-report their number of COVID-19 cases and deaths to the state on a daily basis. But nursing home residents who die in hospitals are counted as hospital deaths, not nursing home deaths.

This has led Barnwell to “disown” some of its residents by shipping them on the verge of death to area hospitals, Columbia County Department of Health Director Jack Mabb said May 19.

Mabb alleged that Barnwell administrators gave misleading addresses and transferred residents to hospitals to avoid reporting a high number of deaths.

Barnwell staff first detected COVID-19 at the facility late last month, when seven residents and two staff members tested positive on April 28.

The state Department of Health asked the Columbia County Department of Health to provide Barnwell with a supply of testing kits, which they did, Mabb said at the time.

As a result of increased testing, more than a third of all Barnwell residents were declared positive for COVID-19 less than a week later. That number rose to more than 100 within a few days, after the entire Barnwell community was tested by a team of nurses from the state Department of Health.

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

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