On Tuesday night, the Niagara County Legislature unanimously agreed to send a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo regarding the situation at Newfane Rehabilitation and Health Center and asking for his intervention. It read:
Dear Governor Cuomo:
Much has been written and said about the plight of nursing homes across New York State during the COVID-19 pandemic. There seems to be a yearning to start finger-pointing and even yesterday, some state lawmakers began calling for an investigation. There will be an appropriate time to review all actions taken in the fight against COVID-19 and decide what worked, what did not, and what we have collectively learned. That is not the point of this letter.
Newfane is a community of just over 9000 people, yet it has the second most positive COVID-19 cases in all of Niagara County and seems to be quickly catching up to the City of Niagara Falls. The vast majority of these cases are tied directly to the Newfane Rehabilitation and Health Center. The facility is a 160-plus bed nursing home that has experienced an unprecedented number of deaths and infections over the last few weeks attributed to COVID-19. The Niagara County Legislature is asking for your intervention to battle the immediate crisis that has engulfed the facility.
The residents, their families and the workers appear to be overwhelmed. We now see families of the employees becoming ill with COVID, which adds to our misery. We have been in close contact with Town of Newfane Supervisor Tim Horanburg, who every day is seeing new death certificates filed at Town Hall.
The state Department of Health (DOH) visited the facility to look at their protocols and conduct testing. While we appreciate their visit, we remain convinced that something far more significant needs to be done. It is clear this facility is being overrun and as more staff test positive, the problem of lack of adequate personnel is exacerbated. Yet, your recent policy change that prevents hospitals from sending patients who test positive for COVID-19 from returning to their nursing home residence runs the risk of chewing up the excess hospital capacity. That was the whole point of flattening the curve and is one of your seven metrics for reopening the region.
That is why we ask that you consider activating the New York State National Guard Medical Staff to provide the human resources needed to get this situation under manageable control. We are also asking you to consider utilizing the former, yet now closed, Newfane Intercommunity Hospital as a site specifically for COVID-19 seniors/nursing home patients. Niagara County already has an agreement for use of this facility as a quarantine site, but has not had reason to utilize it. This site could become a relief valve not just for the Newfane Rehabilitation and Health Center, but other nursing homes in the county and region which are facing similar issues. This would not be dissimilar from the way the tuberculosis epidemic was handled in years past. Furthermore, we would have the facility in place should, against all of our hope and prayers, a second wave of COVID-19 become a reality.
Governor, the facility, and by extension the community, cannot do this on our own and the current policies are simply not working. We need your help to solve these problems. We wish to thank you in advance for your consideration of our suggestions and stand ready to work with you to help protect the courageous staff and vulnerable residents of our nursing homes.