Ghent administrator defends testing policy

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

GHENT — One area nursing facility is not cooperating with a countywide initiative to test all nursing-home residents for COVID-19, Columbia County health officials said Tuesday.

Ghent Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, formerly known as the Whittier, has not accepted testing kits offered by the county, said Columbia County Department of Health Director Jack Mabb.

“They are the only facility not working with us,” Mabb said in a statement Tuesday. “Initially, we were told by someone at the facility that they wanted 180 kits, however, later someone called back to refuse them.”

All other nursing homes in Columbia County are cooperating with health officials, Mabb said.

Ghent Rehabilitation and Nursing Center Administrator Frank K. Yeboah defended the facility’s testing policy and said 22 newly admitted and readmitted residents tested negative for COVID-19 as of Wednesday.

“As we have tested proactively we have demonstrated that patients have been coronavirus-free, and so at this stage it doesn’t make sense for our building to perform wide testing strategy which is voluntary and not mandated by law,” Yeboah said in a statement Wednesday.

The 22 people tested were new admissions and readmissions to the facility. Ten of those residents were tested using kits provided by the Columbia County Health Department and 12 were tested by Columbia Memorial Hospital before returning to Ghent, Yeboah said.

The facility has stringent infection control measures in place and staff are practicing a “high level of vigilance” to spot potential COVID-19 symptoms among residents, he said.

“Rather, as we are ahead of any exposure, what will continue to be most effective in our circumstance will be to test early and selectively at any individual raising any concern,” Yeboah said. “This strategy of early selective testing will enable us to have early identification and containment. Our death registry for the past two months is quite a testament to our success.”

Ghent Assisted Living Administrator Meghan Kelley declined to comment on the testing policy, but said the facility is “awaiting further instruction.”

Four Ghent Rehabilitation and Nursing Center employees from the rehabilitation, nursing, dietary and housekeeping departments have tested negative for COVID-19, Yeboah said.

Nursing homes statewide have struggled to halt the spread of COVID-19. Nursing home and adult care center residents account for more than one in four deaths from the virus, according to the state Department of Health.

In an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes, Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandated on May 7 that nursing home operators must now test their workers twice weekly. Nursing home workers, but not residents, will be subject to the mandate. Any workers who refuse testing may risk losing their job, Cuomo said Tuesday.

Cuomo defended his twice-weekly testing policy at a press conference in Watertown on Wednesday.

“This is the most vulnerable population,” he said. “If you only test once a week, you can infect people. Twice a week is not that dramatic.”

The Columbia County Health Department received a shipment of 1,080 testing kits from the state on Wednesday, which will be distributed to nursing homes for staff testing, Mabb said.

Nursing homes are scrambling to make plans for testing their employees twice a week in accordance with Cuomo’s directive, Mabb said Wednesday.

“It is a difficult task for nursing homes to meet,” he said. “I have my doubts they will be able to meet it.”

Mabb acknowledged that the new testing policy is only a partial solution.

“Tests are a snapshot of the moment the swab is in your nose,” he said.

The state testing mandate did not include a provision for free test kits, so the onus is on nursing homes to find ways to obtain and pay for staff testing, Mabb said.

The state will help nursing home facilities get the needed tests, Cuomo said at his daily press briefing Wednesday.

The state sent nearly 30,000 testing kits to 29 counties to assist in nursing home testing last week, said Gary Holmes, spokesman for the state Department of Health.

Twelve counties reported receiving testing kits that leaked or needed to be replaced, Holmes confirmed.

Columbia County received six faulty test kits, which resulted in some people who were tested at the county’s clinic on Friday being retested at Valatie Rapid Care over the weekend, Mabb said.

Columbia County is committed to providing testing kits to enable nursing homes to continue testing their resident populations, Mabb said. Officials previously distributed hundreds of testing kits to nursing homes in an effort to understand how widespread the coronavirus is in local nursing home populations.

A total of 117 residents, more than half the population of The Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing at Barnwell in Valatie, tested positive for COVID-19. On Monday administrators transferred 35 Barnwell residents to other nursing facilities in Long Island, Rome, and Pawling, said Jay Lawrence, director of corporate business development for The Grand Healthcare System.

Livingston Hills Nursing and Rehabilitation Center tested 92 residents, with no positives as of Wednesday. Two Livingston Hills residents tested positive for COVID-19 previously, Mabb said.

The FASNY Firemen’s Home in Hudson has completed testing on one wing of its facility, with no positives, county officials confirmed on Wednesday.

A total of 35 residents of Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center tested positive and more than a dozen died from COVID-19 since the outbreak there began in March. The remaining residents have recovered from the virus, said Pine Haven spokesman Geoff Thompson.

“For the first time in 45 days, Pine Haven is COVID-free,” Thompson said on Tuesday.

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