VALATIE — A cluster of COVID cases at the Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing at Barnwell has expanded and no staff member testing positive has been vaccinated, according to the Columbia County Department of Health.

Department Director Jack Mabb said Thursday morning the number of positive COVID cases at the facility has grown to 16 residents and 11 staff members.

“The 11 staff, none of them are vaccinated,” Mabb said. “I have heard throughout these last couple months that a lot of nursing homes staff, and even a lot of folks that work in hospitals, were not taking the vaccine, and I just personally feel that there is some obligation, if you work with senior citizens, or a vulnerable population like nursing home residents that you should get the vaccination.”

State Department of Health public information officer Jeffrey Hammond said all medically eligible nursing home residents and staff in the state have been offered a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are encouraged that 84 percent of nursing home residents in Columbia County have been vaccinated,” Hammond said. “While this is very good news, the Grand’s responsibility to vaccinate their residents and staff is not over and now is not the time to let our guard down and all facilities should continue to implement proper infection control measures, practice social distancing, use masks and continue to offer vaccinations to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

New York state does not require all individuals to get vaccinated, according to the state’s COVID vaccine web page. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said there is no federal mandate to get the vaccine.

“One of the things that occurred to us is that if they require the vaccination, then people are just going to go work at McDonald’s,” Mabb said. “We’ve learned that the Grand is having a hard time recruiting local people, they have had to bring in people from other parts of the state, and even out-of-state, to try to keep up their staffing. I think all of the nursing homes are experiencing this.”

Working in a nursing home is a tough job, Mabb said. He said he is not critical of Barnwell for bringing in staff from other places, adding most nursing homes are having some difficulty keeping staffing numbers up through the pandemic.

“We don’t believe that any of the nursing homes are requiring vaccinations at this point,” Mabb said. “I just think its horrendous, if you’re going to work with a vulnerable population, you should get the vaccine.”

Columbia County had two new positive COVID cases Thursday morning, but neither were from Barnwell, Mabb said.

The outbreak was first reported by the Columbia County Department of Health last Friday. At that time 11 residents and eight staff were positive.

Neither the Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing at Barnwell nor the Grand Healthcare, which owns Barnwell, could be reached for comment on the outbreak despite multiple requests.

The vaccination rates by nursing home are self-reported to the state Department of Health. As of May 20 they report 84% of nursing home residents in Columbia County are vaccinated, and 54% of the staff at those facilities are vaccinated.

The state Health Department data include five ‘skilled nursing facilities’ in Columbia County. The Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing at Barnwell has had 79.3% of its residents complete their vaccination and 43.2% of the staff have completed their vaccination as of May 19, according to the report. By comparison the FASNY Firemen’s Home has reported 70.9% of its staff has completed its vaccination, Pine Haven reported 62.2% of its staff have completed a vaccination, Ghent Rehabilitation and Nursing Center has reported 43.8% of its staff has completed its vaccination, Livingston Hills Nursing and Rehabilitation Center has reported 42.3% of its staff has completed its vaccination.

The State DOH enacted emergency regulations April 18 which require all nursing homes to offer all consenting, unvaccinated, existing ​and new personnel and residents the opportunity to get vaccinated. Nursing homes found to be out of compliance can be fined up to $2,000 per violation.

The regulations require nursing home operators to offer unvaccinated existing ​and new personnel and residents an opportunity to receive the first or any required second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and to get a signed affirmation from anyone who declines, stating that they refused vaccination and that they understand that they may request it from the facility at a later date.

The regulations also require nursing homes to post signage throughout the facility reminding personnel and residents that the facility offers COVID-19 vaccination.

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