Family demands changes at nursing homes after mom dies of coronavirus

A pair of Long Island sisters whose mother died of COVID-19 have launched a Facebook page to demand changes from state-licensed nursing homes — and share stories of seniors who have died at the virus-stricken facilities.

Vivian Rivera Zayas and Alexa Rivera of Deer Park announced their page, “Voices for Seniors,” during an online news conference Wednesday, about a month after their mother, Ana Celia Martinez — who was staying at Our Lady of Consolation Nursing & Rehabilitative Care Center in West Islip — died of the virus, Newsday reported.

“My life has been turned upside down without my mother,” Zayas said, according to the paper. “I will not let it stand. My mother was not a statistic and was not expendable.”

Martinez, of Brooklyn, was at the facility as she recovered from knee surgery, according to her daughters.

“My mother was supposed to come home,” Rivera said. “We don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”

Instead, Martinez developed abdominal pains, was too hoarse to speak, came down with pneumonia and ultimately tested positive for COVID-19, her daughters said. She died at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip.

But the sisters claim it was very difficult to obtain any information about their mother’s condition once the facility — which has reported 40 confirmed or presumed COVID deaths, according to state Health Department data — locked its doors to the public in early March, according to the report.

Chris Hendriks, a spokeswoman for Catholic Health Services, which runs Our Lady of Consolation, would not discuss specific cases but told Newsday there is constant and ongoing communication with patients and their families.

“We regularly test residents so we can quickly identify who might be positive in order to protect those who are not,” she said. “We keep symptomatic residents separate from our general population and maintain infection prevention control precautions when treating these residents. Additionally, we are vigilant in monitoring staff and residents for any COVID-19 symptoms and immediately take appropriate steps, if symptoms should appear.”

But the sisters insist that the home, and others, must be better at informing loved ones of patients’ deteriorating conditions, and improve access to audio-video devices for easier communication with residents.

They are also calling upon the state to reverse its mandate that nursing homes cannot deny patients admission solely based on a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 diagnosis.

Lorry Sullivan of Lindenhurst, whose mother, Lorraine Sullivan, died at the same nursing home on April 14, her 89th birthday, had similar pleas, according to Newsday.

Doctors initially believed Lorraine had a urinary tract infection, but she later became dehydrated and struggled to breathe and swallow, her daughter said. The staff declined to test her for COVID-19 at first, but they relented a short time before her death — and the results were positive.

“We need an independent watchdog set up as an advocate for patients,” Lorry Sullivan said. “Someone without a financial interest. … We need this set up before a second wave comes.”

At least 5,003 nursing home residents statewide have died from COVID-19, according to the most recent figures, which run through May 5.

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