New York health officials were warned in writing that a Brooklyn nursing home where 55 patients have died of coronavirus was overwhelmed — weeks before it began topping the state’s official list of resident COVID-19 deaths, damning emails show.
Cobble Hill Health Center CEO Donny Tuchman sent a desperate email to state Health Department officials on April 9, asking if there was “a way for us to send our suspected covid patients” to the hospital built inside the Javits Convention Center or the US Naval hospital ship Comfort — the under-utilized federal medical facilities on Manhattan’s West Side.
“We don’t have the ability to cohort right now based on staffing and we really want to protect our other patients,” Tuchman wrote in a chain of the emails reviewed by The Post.
He was denied.
“I was told those facilities were only for hospitals” to send their overflow patients, Tuchman said.
At the time Tuchman sent his plea, only 134 of the 1,000 beds at the Javits Center were full and the Comfort — which had just been reconfigured to treat up to 500 COVID-19 patients — had a mere 62 on board.
Adding insult to injury, the Navy hospital ship wound up treating just 179 patients before Gov. Cuomo on Tuesday said it was no longer needed.
The Comfort remained docked at Pier 90 with 29 patients on board Friday but was expected to return to its homeport in Norfolk, Virginia, as soon as possible.
Cobble Hill has led all state nursing homes in the number of residents killed by the coronavirus since the state Health Department began releasing those figures last week.
That figure remained stable as of Thursday, the latest date for which statistics were available, and was followed by 51 at Parker Jewish Institute for Health Care and Rehabilitation in Queens.
Kings Harbor Multicare Center in The Bronx, Franklin Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Queens, and Carmel Richmond Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Staten Island were next, with 45 deaths each.
Tuchman’s April 9 email wasn’t the only time that the state was put on notice about the dire conditions at Cobble Hill.
In an email one day earlier, Tuchman told Health Department officials that the facility had “over 50 symptomatic patients scattered through the building and almost no gowns.”
Tuchman said Cobble Hill had been asking the city’s Office of Emergency Management “daily” for more gowns, but “gotten only a few hundred delivered.”
“There is no way for us to prevent the spread under these conditions,” he wrote in desperation on April 8. “Is there anything more we can do to protect our patients and staff? Thank you for any help you could be.”
Tuchman got a response 20 minutes later, but all it offered was an attachment with advice on how to conserve PPE, the email chain shows.
“Many facilities have built this guidance into their contingency plan in the event of PPE supply shortages and depletion of supplies. Thanks,” a health official wrote.
A follow-up response about two hours later added, “Please be sure to submit your request through the local OEM daily” — even though Tuchman had said he was already doing that.
Tuchman said Friday the shortages of protective gear grew so severe staffers resorted to wearing trash bags as protection — echoing the situation that scandalized Mount Sinai West hospital in Manhattan when The Post exposed the practice there last month.
“This has been a very sad and painful experience,” Tuchman added. “Once the virus gets into the building it is very, very hard to control.”
Cuomo sparked widespread outrage earlier this week when he said that providing private nursing homes with PPE was “not our job,” with Mayor de Blasio, a longtime rival, saying there’s a “moral imperative to protect our seniors.”
Cuomo also said Thursday that any nursing home that can’t provide a coronavirus patient with an “adequate level of care” could ask the Health Department to transfer the patient elsewhere, and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said he was unaware of any nursing home having made that request.
Under a controversial March 25 order, the Health Department barred nursing homes from refusing admission to “medically stable” coronavirus patients.
In a prepared statement, Health Department spokesman Gary Holmes said, “To be clear: We engaged in conversation with Mr. Tuchman on more than one occasion regarding staffing. He wanted additional help, but stated he was able to meet basic needs under the directive – which included having adequate facilities.”
Holmes also said officials “conducted a focus survey at Cobble Hill and found no deficient practices” and that it would soon be receiving “more than 1,400 gowns and approximately 1,500 face shields.”
“Additionally, as we track inventory for all facilities daily, our records indicate they have more than a week’s supply of N95 masks, two month’s supply of surgical masks, and nearly two week’s supply of gloves,” he added.
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