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Will She Be Counted?

Published on June 15th, 2020

I read a fascinating story in the New York Times about two New York City detectives investigating their mom’s wrongful death after the nursing home was suspicious.  The facility refused to provide them with their mom’s medical records. “They were both detectives in the New York Police Department, 20-year veterans. They were used to getting information, even from people determined to withhold it. But the nursing home had been a black box.”

Aida and Haydee Pabey lost their mom, Elba, on April 6 at the Isabella Geriatric Center.  Haydee got there first and managed to get upstairs. Aida, arriving second, identified herself as a crime scene investigator and brought safety gear. “I had my face shield, my bootees, my mask, my gloves,” she said. The security guard refused to let her in. “No. It was, ‘No way.’” The state’s ban on visitors instructed homes to make an exception for residents at the end of life. But the guard would not let her pass.

“The Pabey sisters’ story — two experienced police officers unable to crack the silences of their mother’s nursing home — is a parable of corporate fog in the time of Covid-19. As nursing homes have been overrun by the virus, accounting for half of all deaths in some states, families say they have been kept in the dark, barred by law from visiting and given incomplete or contradictory information by the homes’ administrators.”

The home encouraged nurses who were not too sick to come to work, the two nurses said. “If you didn’t present symptoms, even if you tested positive, you were supposed to work,” one said. “It happened to a lot of us. We worked.”

“Personal protective equipment was scarce, according to two nurses, and employees handled both Covid and non-Covid residents, creating avenues for the virus to spread. To keep the staff from misusing protective gear or taking it home, the administration rationed gowns, face shields and hand sanitizer, the nurses said. They each got one N95 mask per week, for which they had to sign, one of the nurses said. It was dangerous work: “I got my son sick,” the nurse said.”

The Pabey sisters were also unaware that residents and staff were getting sick, but video calls arranged by the staff gave them pause. They could see their mother’s roommate wandering around the room, sometimes touching their mother or her things, also without a mask. Then on March 27, the Pabeys said, their video calls stopped. When the sisters asked about their mother, it was hard to get more than bland assurances. “They’d just say, ‘She’s good,’” Haydee said. Often they could not reach anyone at all.

Over a 109 residents died from confirmed COVID cases in that facility. However, Elba’s death certificate cited “natural causes” and did not mention Covid-19. “I don’t believe that,” Haydee said. “Especially after speaking to the doctor, who said he was shocked at how quickly Mom died from this virus. And he agreed that she was in generally good health. I know she did not die of natural causes.”

 

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