As COVID-19 ravaged nursing homes, killing thousands of elderly residents, state tallies showed one Long Island home experienced something of a miracle — just a single death.
Even when the Cuomo Administration, under court order, this month released more complete data to include nursing home residents who died in hospitals, the tally for the Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing at South Point rose by just three.
But a resident of the Nassau County home claims that even four deaths is baloney, insisting two or three residents died each day at the height of the pandemic — making for so many victims, the facility’s beauty parlor was turned into a makeshift morgue.
“The people just disappeared,” said Jeffrey Fischler, 51, who has been at the 185-bed home for two years. He said his roommate died — although he does not know the cause — and the corpse sat in their room for eight hours because there was no place to put the body.
The village of Island Park, where Grand Rehabilitation is located, issued 35 death certificates for those who died at the home from March 1, 2020, through May 31, 2020. That is compared to just three during the same period in 2019, according to records obtained by The Post.
The causes of death were not immediately available. Coronavirus testing was inconsistent and difficult to get at the start of the pandemic, making it difficult to confirm who had the virus.
The home is one of 76 in New York — including eight in the Big Apple — where official state counts as of Tuesday showed five or fewer residents died of COVID-19. The city homes included Park Nursing in Queens, with five deaths; the Henry J. Carter Skilled Nursing Facility in Manhattan, with two; and the Grand Manor Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in the Bronx, with five.
The nursing homes are supposed to report deaths to the Department to Health, but the low fatality rates — especially in the hard hit New York City area — raise questions about whether the DOH made any attempt to verify the numbers.
“One or two deaths, that’s a red flag for me,” said Richard Mollot, the head of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, an advocacy group. “If you see anomalies that should be a red flag to at least ask questions.”
The Cuomo Administration’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic is now being probed by the FBI and federal prosecutors.
Attorney General Letitia James said in a scathing report issued last month the state likely undercounted the nursing home death toll by more than 50 percent. Some nursing homes also underreported resident deaths to the state, according to the report, which did not identify the facilities.
The total number of nursing home residents who died is more than 13,000.
“There are gaping discrepancies in the data all over the place, even now with all the additional reporting that they’ve finally done,” said Bill Hammond, the senior fellow for health policy at the Empire Center for Public Policy, which forced the Cuomo Administration to release more complete data through a Freedom of Information Law request.
It’s possible some nursing homes managed to keep the virus at bay and have few fatalities, he added.
“Nassau was one of the hardest hit places and they would have had to get really lucky,” he said of the Grand Rehabilitation home.
Theresa Sari, whose 60-year-old mom, Maria Sachse, contracted COVID-19 at the nursing home and died at a nearby hospital, said she did not believe Grand Rehabilitation’s official death count. She questioned the care her mother, who suffered from dementia, received at the facility.
“She was barely alive when she got to the hospital. They waited until the very last minute to get her help,” Sari said.
Sachse’s April 13, 2020, death is not accurately counted in the newly released state data, which the Empire Center posted on its site. There is no hospital death of a Grand Rehabilitation resident listed for that day.
Sari said the hospital mistakenly put the wrong nursing home on her mother’s death certificate. But the nursing home should have reported the death to the DOH, Hammond said, even though it happened in the hospital.
Mayer Spilman, the regional administrator of the Grand Heathcare System, said the DOH tally of deaths was accurate and that “deaths by natural causes can swing significantly from month to month. There is no further explanation needed.”
He said he could not comment on individual deaths.
“Nursing homes are required to attest to the data they provide to DOH, and accuracy in that reporting is critically important. The Department of Health is reviewing all data received, and if the facility is under reporting we will take the appropriate measures to ensure accountability,” said DOH spokesman Gary Holmes.