Coronavirus spreads in a New York nursing home forced to take recovering patients

A resident at a nursing home rests in her room in Ammerschwir, France, Thursday April 16, 2020. The elderly make up a disproportional share of coronavirus victims globally, and that is especially true in nursing homes, which have seen a horrific number of deaths around the world. In France, nursing home deaths account for more than a third of the country's total coronavirus victims  figures the government now documents meticulously after weeks of pressure. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
A resident at a nursing home rests in her room in Ammerschwir, France, Thursday April 16, 2020. The elderly make up a disproportional share of coronavirus victims globally, and that is especially true in nursing homes, which have seen a horrific number of deaths around the world. In France, nursing home deaths account for more than a third of the country's total coronavirus victims figures the government now documents meticulously after weeks of pressure. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias) (Jean-Francois Badias)

NBC NEWS – The coronavirus patients began arriving the last week of March, transferred to the Gurwin Jewish Nursing and Rehabilitation Center under a New York state mandate requiring nursing homes to accept those recovering from COVID-19, even if they still might be contagious.

At the time, the Long Island nursing home had only one known resident who had contracted the virus, according to the facility’s president and CEO, Stuart Almer.

A month later, Gurwin is battling an outbreak that’s killed 24 residents — only three of whom were hospital transfers — and one staff member, who worked in housekeeping, Almer said. And the nursing home is still mandated to take in recovering hospital patients known to have the virus, potentially increasing its spread in the facility.

“We can’t say for sure” whether the virus has spread because of the patients transferred under the state mandate, Almer said. “But it’s certainly not helping the situation.”

Three states hit hard by the pandemic — New York, New Jersey and California — have ordered nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to accept coronavirus patients discharged from hospitals. The policy, intended to help clear in-demand hospital beds for sicker patients, has prompted sharp criticism from the nursing home industry, staff members and concerned families, as well as some leading public health experts.

“Nursing homes are working so hard to keep the virus out, and now we’re going to be introducing new COVID-positive patients?” asked David Grabowski, a professor of health policy at Harvard Medical School. Instead, he believes that states should create COVID-only facilities for recovering patients discharged from hospitals.

“The existing places that can really do this safely in terms of staffing and building space to keep them separate are in the minority,” he added.