The Deaths at the Hebrew Home and Nursing Homes Like It Were and Have Been Preventable. But, Money, Political Clout, and Other Factors Have Allowed Problems to go Ignored.
The story of neglect, poor oversight, non-responsive administrators and multiple lawsuits at the Hebrew Home in Riverdale was originally written in 2016 in a Three-Part investigation by Frank G. Runyeon. The story received only minimal attention and was largely ignored at that time, despite many years of shameful status quo in New York State Nursing Homes in general, and Hebrew Home related specifically. All information was and has been publicly available.
With respect to the Hebrew Home, four years later, 2020, will be ascribed to Coronavirus emergencies coupled with of the abject failures of the New York State governing authorities, the Department of Health the other entities responsible for keeping our elderly safe.
Many of the New York State’s nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities are highly profitable churning mills for filling beds and neglecting elderly. And because of a complete lack of oversight and accountability, there is blame to go around but Governor Cuomo has reduced the need to think twice. Money in, bodies out, little concern.
In New York, the legislators, the institutions and the Attorney General can all shoulder some of the blame for allowing Governor Cuomo to cater to his big-money donors and their long-term care/rehabilitation facility campaign donations, enabling understaffing and subpar oversight and enforcement.
You all have blood on your hands. Is it not about time to do something?
More than 110 people have died at the Hebrew Home in Riverdale in just two months — many with suspected COVID-19 symptoms but not appearing in official state tallies — and whistleblowers at the facility claim it’s a cover-up.
While the nursing home said 25 residents died at the home, or in hospitals, from confirmed and suspected COVID-19 in March and April, two insiders told The Post that 119 residents have died in the home alone in those two months.
The state Department of Health, meanwhile, lists only 18 deaths at the home as of May 8. The state does not include nursing-home residents who die in hospitals in its official count.
The staff was also ravaged — with at least 71 workers confirmed to have the virus, documents reviewed by The Post show.
There were 11 resident deaths on two days alone in April, according to internal records seen by The Post which did not list the cause of death. That two-day total was higher than the nine residents who died in all of January, two insiders said.
In April, 84 people died at the nursing home and 35 succumbed in March, the insiders said. There were so many bodies that an empty building on campus, the Catholic church’s former Cardinal Spellman Retreat House, was turned into a temporary morgue, the sources said.
“Was it just an extremely unlucky period? Or is there some other explanation for what’s going on? It’s obvious that there is,” one insider said, suggesting most of the 119 deaths were coronavirus-related. If true, the body count would far surpass that of any virus-ravaged nursing home in the state.
The other insider said that the nursing home was scared to report the true numbers to the state “because everyone will assume the worst.”
The sources said the home is barely testing residents, claiming it won’t change the treatment plan. But the lack of test results also allows the home to say it doesn’t have a confirmed coronavirus case when someone dies.
One insider said administrators were “terrified about what the future is going to hold for them” if the large body count got out and impacted getting new residents. The home heavily advertises on radio.
With 751 beds, the facility is the largest private nursing home in the state. The Isabella Geriatric Center in Manhattan, with 705 beds, has reported 67 COVID-19 deaths at its home. The 527-bed Parker Jewish nursing home in Queens had 75.
The Post has learned that the Hebrew Home is under probe after a complaint was made to the state Labor Department about non-clinical staff being mandated to come in, the insiders said, noting the investigation had been forwarded to the state Attorney General.
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Editor’s note: This article is the third in a three-part series examining how and why New York’s nursing homes too often fail to keep their residents safe. Read the first part here and the second part here.
Nestled among stately colonial houses and hemmed in by rambling stone walls, the Hebrew Home at Riverdale sits on 32 acres of well-manicured land in the tony Bronx neighborhood of North Riverdale. The nonprofit nursing home holds a coveted five-star rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and wins perennial mentions in U.S. News and World Report’s list of best nursing homes.
But this idyllic campus is the subject of worrying reports from former residents who say they were neglected and suffered under Hebrew Home doctors and nurses who failed to provide adequate care. New York Nonprofit Media examined dozens of lawsuits brought against the nursing home as well as other reports of neglect from former residents, their family members and lawyers.
Since 2010, over two-dozen lawsuits were filed against Hebrew Home alleging medical malpractice or neglect that led to serious injuries or wrongful death – a red flag that may call into question its lofty rating.
Hebrew Home declined repeated interview requests from NYN Media.
When asked to explain the allegations of neglect, the nursing home responded in a statement: “We cannot and will not comment on litigation in which the Hebrew Home is a party.” The statement also noted that Hebrew Home has a resident council where complaints are discussed and that administrators do “respond directly to any and all resident and family concerns that warrant attention at that level.”
“The Hebrew Home at Riverdale is proud of its near century history of providing the highest quality of care and compassion to countless older adults and their families,” the statement read.
NYN Media identified and reviewed 26 lawsuits against Hebrew Home. Most of them are ongoing. Six have been settled – most for undisclosed sums. Just one case was dismissed based on the evidence.
NYN Media did find that two other large nursing homes in the Bronx had similarly high numbers of neglect lawsuits, but resident advocates and industry representatives differ on what that might indicate. Industry representatives see elder abuse attorneys attacking an easy target in a litigation-friendly borough, while resident advocates see a sign of a systemic problem with neglect.
Industry experts, advocates, and lawyers interviewed by NYN Media said Hebrew Home may still be one of the best nursing homes in the state – but considering the quality of nursing home care in New York, bad things can happen even at the best facilities. Ultimately, they said, the numerous reports of neglect and abuse at Hebrew Home are an indication of failed state oversight.
“What we’re seeing is that even in a supposedly good nursing home the care is generally not very good,” said Richard Mollot, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition (LTCCC), a leading advocacy group for nursing home residents. “I think it’s very significant.”
What’s more, inconsistencies between reports of neglect and official CMS star ratings, as seen at Hebrew Home, undermine the credibility of the nursing home ratings system, advocates argued.
Living in a nursing home “that is purportedly a five-star facility doesn’t mean that you are necessarily safe,” Mollot said. “It’s possible to have significant problems and still be highly rated, because of the problems in oversight and monitoring.”
Reports of abuse and neglect in New York nursing homes have spiked over the last few years, as understaffed regulators struggle to function effectively. As NYN Media previously reported, the quality of New York nursing home care ranks among the worst in the nation, with the state attorney general’s office indicating that the state needs more manpower to police the problem.
A recent state comptroller report noted short-staffing at the state Department of Health as a serious issue that led to delays of up to six years in fining nursing homes for violations after investigators identified problems. The state Health Department, which acts as the primary regulator of nursing homes, said the problems were being addressed.
But other research suggests that health officials often fail to identify violations even when they are looking for them.
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