Durshron Sanders got the kind of call nobody with a loved one living in a nursing home wants to get these days.
On Monday morning, a representative from Schoellkopf Health Center in Niagara Falls called Sanders to tell him that his 87-year-old mother, who had been a resident in the facility for several years, tested positive for COVID-19.
Sanders said the positive diagnosis came as a surprise to him, considering he brought his mother some food on Saturday and was not told by any staff members that his mom was going to be tested that same day.
After learning of her diagnosis, Sanders said staff members told him they could offer his mother "comfort care," an option he declined. Instead, Sanders said he directed Schoellkopf management to place his mother in the emergency room where she was receiving treatment while he waited for word on her condition from a doctor or a nurse on Monday.
"They said they tested my mother on Saturday and that today she had symptoms of the virus. It doesn't add up," Sanders said.
Stories about New Yorkers who are finding out about their loved ones testing positive for COVID-19 while in nursing homes are adding up across Niagara County, the region and the state.
While Newfane Rehabilitation and Health Center has drawn considerable attention from local leaders as the facility has been the site of a rising number of positive cases and deaths in recent weeks, other long-term health care facilities in the county are not immune to the spread of the virus inside their walls.
As of Monday, a total of 19 out of the 95 residents at Schoellkopf had tested positive for COVID-19. The new numbers, which were confirmed by members of the staff, followed a round of testing that involved all of the facility's residents on Saturday.
Schoellkopf administrator John Durno said the facility tested both residents and staff this past weekend. Moving forward, as per a directive from New York state, all staff members will be required to be tested at least twice per week. Durno said Sanders and others with loved ones inside the facility who tested positive for the virus were notified about the results on Monday.
"Anybody who tested positive, we called their responsible party and informed them that they tested positive," Durno said.
According to Durno, patients who have tested positive are receiving care in a unit that is separate from other parts of the facility and steps have been taken to isolate COVID-19 patients and workers who provide them with treatment. Durno said staff members are being provided with personal protective equipment, including masks, face shields, goggles, gowns and gloves. He added that memorial medical center's infectious disease specialist is also working with management at Schoellkopf in an effort to ensure that all appropriate steps are being taken to reduce spread among residents and staff members.
Durno said the state health department performed a random infection control survey on Monday and found Schoellkopt to be in substantial compliance with no deficiencies.
"I fully believe that we are doing everything in our power that we can," Durno said.
Sanders expressed frustration about the level of communication he was receiving from the staff in regard to his mother's condition. He said he has yet to get an answer to his main concern: How a resident like his mother - who only leaves her room for in-house dialysis treatments - contracted the virus? He also questioned why he was not notified in advance of the facility's intent to test his mother and other residents.
"I'd like them to inform people well in advance of anything that could impact my mother's health," he said.
Sanders said he's also not comfortable with the way staff members are being monitored, noting that he's concerned about employees entering, exiting and re-entering the building during their shifts.
Gloria Dolson, whose aunt is Sanders' mother, said the family has concerns about the spread of the virus inside Schoellkopf and fears that conditions are getting worse. Dolson said family members have been frustrated by a lack of response to their inquiries from management.
Dolson said she, too, wonders why more residents - who have been confined to the facility since COVID-19-related shutdowns began earlier this year - are continuing to be diagnosed as positive with the virus. She questions why employees are being allowed to leave and return to the building during their shifts.
"These residents are not going outside," she said.
Like other nursing homes across the state, Schoellkopf has not allowed visitors from outside the facility since mid-March. Durno said staff members are also being required to have their temperatures taken twice per shift and all staff members are required to wear masks when they are in the building.
"They are screened for temperature if they leave the building," Durno said.
Durno said the additional testing being done at the facility this past weekend is a reflection of the wider availability of testing in the community generally. Being able to test all residents and more workers, which is something Schoellkopt was unable to do due to what was for weeks a lack of testing supplies, gives management a greater understanding of the level of infection within the facility, according to Durno. He said isolating patients who test positive and providing them with the proper level of care as recommended by the state health department and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remains the top priority for Schoellkopf management.
"We're not going to cut any corners and we're going to do everything we can to make sure we keep everybody safe and healthy," Durno said.