Top Stories 2020: COVID-19 left deadly impact at long-term care facilities

When the first COVID-19 outbreak occurred in the United States at a nursing home in Washington, it became abundantly clear that long-term care facilities, filled largely with elderly residents, faced enormous risk. 

In early March, COVID-19 still felt like a distant threat. But that quickly changed when Peconic Landing in Greenport announced a per-diem employee had tested positive for COVID-19. At the time, still so much was unknown about the virus, and even as the facility implemented strict measures to limit any spread, the virus would prove stubbornly difficult to contain.

By mid-March, three members at Peconic Landing’s Health Center had died from COVID-19, all of whom were in their 90s. At the time of that announcement, an additional 12 members had tested positive as the life care and retirement community became one of the first known COVID-19 hotspots in Suffolk County.

With assistance from the Suffolk County Department of Health, Peconic Landing implemented additional testing measures and limited outside contact to help contain the spread. By mid-May, at which point no more cases remained from the original outbreak, a total of 13 fatalities were reported at the facility, eight of which were at the skilled nursing facility. A total of 26 cases were found among members at that time.

As more data became available across the state, a clearer picture emerged of just how deadly the virus had been in long-term care facilities. And a controversial directive from the state DOH in March that said such facilities could not discriminate against admitting a COVID-19 positive patient became a lighting rod for critics of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The state’s response to nursing homes was the subject of lengthy legislative hearings over the summer as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle questioned the health department’s method for counting nursing home fatalities and current visitation policies.

By that point, more than 6,400 fatalities in New York were confirmed in nursing homes.

The state DOH released a report over the summer that pointed to staff members as the unknowing driver of spread of COVID-19 in facilities. Critics labeled the report as incomplete.