N.Y. health officials denied request to transfer nursing home patients to emergency COVID facilities

The facility was the hardest-hit in the entire state, with dozens of patient deaths.

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The USNS Comfort in New York City
The USNS Comfort docked in New York City.
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Last Updated:
April 25, 2020 - 12:59pm

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Emails between New York state health officials and administrators of a hard-hit Brooklyn nursing home show that the care facility was denied a request to transfer its suspected coronavirus patients to nearby emergency medical facilities, a decision which may have led to the nursing home's having the highest death rate of any such establishment in the state. 

Donny Tuchman, the CEO of Brooklyn's Cobble Hill Health Center, asked the New York Health Department on April 9 if there was a way to send the nursing home's "suspected covid patients" to the city's emergency coronavirus field hospitals before their conditions worsened. 

"We don’t have the ability to cohort right now based on staffing and we really want to protect our other patients," Tuchman said, according to the New York Post, which reviewed the emails. 

Tuchman's request was denied, with state officials telling him at the time that the emergency facilities "were only for hospitals" to send excess patients. Several weeks later, Cobble Hill has seen 55 of its residents die, the highest number of any afflicted facility in the state. 

The timing of the emails is significant. Two days prior to Tuchman's email, the Department of Defense announced that both the Comfort and the Javits Center would begin accepting COVID-19 patients. Previously the two emergency outposts were intended to treat non-coronavirus patients who, in an effort to conserve scarce medical resources, were being directed to avoid city hospitals. 

"We've done some minor configurations on ship, and there is no risk to any of the patients that are non-COVID at this time. We were able to isolate within the ship non-COVID patients from the COVID-positive patients," Navy Vice Admiral Andrew Lewis said of the ship at the time. The Javits Center, meanwhile, said it would accept COVID-19 patients who were in a "convalescent," or recovery stage of the disease. 

At the time that Tuchman sent his email, the Comfort had just 62 patients aboard, while the Javits Center was at around 13 percent capacity. Gov. Cuomo announced this week that the hospital would soon be returning to its Virginia port having treated less than 200 patients. 

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