December 1, 2021

No virus cases reported at area nursing homes

Cortland, Cayuga, Tompkins facilities remain locked down

Kevin Conlon/city editor

Stacey Perrine, an assistant unit manager at Groton Nursing Home and Rehabilitation, checks Dr. Darshan Patel’s temperature Friday afternoon. Patel, the medical director at the facility and at Guthrie Cortland Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, said protocols enacted before the state required them have kept coronavirus out of their facilities. No COVID-19 infections have been reported at nursing homes or assisted living facilities in Cortland, Tompkins or Cayuga counties.

Nursing homes in Cortland County haven’t seen a single positive case of coronavirus — even as the rest of the state reports 3,688 deaths in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

Health Department Director Catherine Feuerherm doesn’t know what to attribute that to; she just hopes it stays that way. “I hope it continues on this trend,” she said.

Most nursing homes in the state, including the three in Cortland County, went into lockdown mode a week before the state required. They were facilities filled with patients with compromised immune systems living in close quarters — just the type of person most at risk from COVID-19. State data show 64% of the state’s more than 18,000 coronavirus fatalities were people older than 70.

Groton Community Health Care Center, which offers both long- and short-term rehabilitation also closed its doors to outside visitors a week before being ordered to by the state, said Dr. Darshan Patel, who is the medical director for the Guthrie Cortland Medical Center Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and the Groton center.

The nursing homes are comparable in size — about 80 beds in each — so Patel said he began talking to administrative teams at both about what to do because reports have shown that those at high risk are patients 80 or older with underlying issues.

“A week is immense in this pandemic,” he said. “We had 4,000 deaths (nationwide) in the beginning of April and now we have 64,000 deaths.”

Particularly in nursing homes, where people are confined to spaces, Patel said, “It can spread very quickly and these patients go into respite and they can pass away very fast.”

Besides locking down, Patel said the home also:

  • Require all staff to wear face masks.
  • Mask residents who exhibit symptoms, and test them twice. “If we can get a second one we can solidify and be sure it’s accurate,” Patel said.
  • Canceled some social events at the facility to meet gathering guidelines.
  • Require people to enter the building through one entrance, where they must fill out a questionnaire and have their temperature taken.
  • Quarantine new residents or patients in an area away from those already in the facility until they have two negative tests come back.
  • Prevent staff from traveling outside the region, which includes Cortland, Tompkins and contiguous counties.

The protocols are similar to those the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise, although the CDC doesn’t discuss keeping staff from traveling.

However, Feuerherm said, largescale testing at nursing homes, as seen in counties such as Onondaga — which has five deaths in nursing homes and assisted living facilities — hasn’t happened in Cortland County yet because there have been no positive cases.

“We so far — knock on wood — have had no cases in those nursing homes,” he said.

Patel credits the staff with helping decrease the spread while trying to maintain resident’s spirits.

“The nursing home staff, and that’s everyone involved, they’re really doing above and beyond right now,” he said.