CARTHAGE — Following what families of residents are saying is a lack of communication from Carthage Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing, the nursing home is attempting to quell rising frustrations. But families are still disappointed.
Carthage Center, 1045 West St., has now experienced 58 positive cases of COVID-19 among the resident population, and 35 staff members have also tested positive to date. Staff members who test positive are quarantining at home, while residents of the 90-bed facility who have tested positive are in a dedicated wing for COVID-only residents.
The center does not allow visitation at this time, and due to this, families wishing to receive updates on residents say there’s been no communication from the facility.
Jefferson County Board of Legislators Chairman Scott A. Gray said Carthage Center has recorded seven deaths due to COVID-19 as of Tuesday — far more than the one reflected on the facility’s website. Four of the deaths, including Mr. Gray’s uncle, occurred Monday.
Following the small spike in COVID-related deaths, and after weeks of continued disappointment and frustration from family members, the facility issued a statement Tuesday addressing the communication issues.
The statement reads, in part, that since there’s been an uptick in COVID cases, clinical staff aren’t always available by phone in real time to take questions due to the volume of work trying to keep residents from contracting COVID-19.
To help resolve the communication issues and concerns, Carthage Center has created “Carthage Center Is Here For You,” which has designated staff who would be out of the facility recuperating from COVID-19 fielding calls in real time, according to the statement.
Mr. Gray said he’s regularly receiving messages regarding families’ frustrations surrounding the perceived lack of communication.
Just before 11 a.m. Tuesday, Mr. Gray’s office had already received five more messages from those who either have family members at the Carthage facility, or had family there who died from COVID-19 complications.
“There’s no visitors, so external communication is that much more important to family members,” Mr. Gray said. “A lot of family members have concerns and questions — their anxiety level is very high.”
Mr. Gray and his family know firsthand how frustrating the lack of communication has been.
His uncle, Richard Mihalyi, known to Mr. Gray and others in his family as “Uncle Duke,” had been in the nursing home since November.
He was diagnosed with COVID-19 less than a week ago, and died Monday morning at the age of 97.
The Rev. David Mihalyi, eldest son of Richard Mihalyi, said Tuesday that while the family was notified his father tested positive days ago, that was the last communication they received. When he called Monday morning to find out how his father was, he was informed that he had died a half hour earlier.
“I find that inexcusable,” he said. “I wonder how long it would have taken for them to notify me if I hadn’t have called.”
Rev. Mihalyi said he didn’t think those at Carthage Center were honest about the situation going on at the facility, and that the center’s response to families has been atrocious. His father and mother, Helen, were married for 72 years and she didn’t have the chance to say goodbye before he died Monday.
“My father is not a number on a website, nor is any other family number there a number on the website,” Rev. Mihalyi said. “They are people.”
Jennifer Charton, Richard Mihalyi’s granddaughter, said no one answered the phone at the facility for the past two weeks, with three people in her family calling multiple times a day with no response.
She said the facility staff also did not shave her grandfather or cut his hair when asked, his hearing aid was lost and her grandfather was often in the same clothing when the family would go to visit him through the window.
“We felt awful the entire time he has been there and always feared this would happen — and it did,” she said. “He was one in a million and it shouldn’t have ended this way. I hope to help other families not to have to go through this. It’s just awful.”
Mr. Gray said he was notified of a family that received one phone call about their resident testing positive for COVID. Calling the facility nearly 50 times, they received no answer and didn’t receive a call when the patient died.
Both David Jones’ father, John Jones, and his aunt Julie Turpin are current residents of Carthage Center. Mr. Jones said one day, he sat for about three hours just trying to get a bit of information on whether his father was alive.
“I knew that he had been transported out to Carthage Area Hospital because of a different issue, but he had tested positive for COVID (about) three or four days prior to that,” he said.
After about a dozen phone calls and no response, Mr. Jones said he called the corporate office in the Bronx to speak with someone about the fact that he couldn’t even get through to the center. Once he voiced his obvious disgust with the communication from the Carthage facility, his father’s charge nurse called him to give him an update.
“These people are entrusted to watch over somebody’s loved ones,” Mr. Gray said. “They just walled themselves off and that’s absolutely insensitive to family members who are wondering what’s going on inside the walls.
“Everybody’s aware of what the problem is, everybody’s aware of the virus, the severity,” he added. “There’s no hiding, so to speak, or turning your back on it.”