Trapped Inside One Assisted Living Facility: We Don’t Know Who is Dead or Alive

Posted on behalf of Jeff Pitman on December 2, 2020 in Nursing Homes and Elder Rights
Updated on February 24, 2022

 elderly black woman wearing a face maskThe pandemic has notably caused tens of thousands of deaths in nursing homes across the country. In one assisted living facility in Bronxwood, New York, the death toll started shortly after COVID-19 outbreaks began to be reported in the U.S., around March 2020. Residents noted that often after someone died, a notice would be placed on a window in the lobby to commemorate the passing. These notices never included a name, so the residents never really knew who or how many had died. Some guessed around 25, while others thought the number of deaths was almost twice that.

Varahn Chamblee, at 65, was a resident at the Bronxwood assisted living facility (ALF) for nearly a year. Although she still worked at two hair salons in the Bronx, she decided to move to the facility after her landlady pressured her to leave the apartment she shared with her adult son. The ALF was affordable and still close enough to walk to her jobs. It seemed to work initially, and she even took on the role as president of Bronxwood’s resident council, speaking often with management. She took her role seriously, seeking improvements for residents, such as getting approval for an increased clothing allowance to help them to better afford critical items, like coats or winter shoes. However, despite her active role and regular communication with administrators at the facility, even Varahn was not kept informed about the impact of COVID-19 at Bronxwood.

Bronxwood Residents Disappeared Without Notice

The New York State Department of Health advises adult living facilities to keep residents informed when there are suspected or confirmed new cases of the virus. Residents at Bronxwood said that type of communication has not happened throughout the pandemic. Renee Johnson, another resident at Bronxwood said, “They are not telling us anything.”

Residents and staff reportedly just disappeared from the facility and never came back. The dining area and theater were shuttered and padlocked, and the lobby area taped off. Clothes, computers, televisions and other personal belongings of those who died were packed into the facility’s library. ProPublica reported that, with so many residents missing, life at Bronxwood seemed more like a horror film or crime scene. 

Those who were hospitalized and survived to return to the facility acted as if nothing had ever happened. Residents who did not get COVID-19 were worried that associating with those who had been ill could cause more of them to become infected.

How Assisted Living Facilities Differ From Nursing Homes

ALFs, unlike other long-term care facilities or nursing homes, allow their residents to have more autonomy and are also not subject to federal oversight. During the pandemic, this and other freedoms afforded to residents in ALFs have become more of a liability. Standards of care are less watched over and infection control, compared to nursing homes, is non-existent. ALF residents still live in close contact with each other, and there are significantly less staff available. Additionally, ALFs are not required to provide full-time medical staff in spite of, according to New York state’s data on assisted living facilities, that:

  • Half of the residents in ALFs are over 85
  • Two-thirds of ALF residents need assistance with bathing
  • One-third of ALF residents have some form of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease

Bronxwood, which is the third largest facility of its kind in New York, did not have access to protective gear early on in the pandemic. This facility, since it is not classified as a medical institution, has also not implemented other restrictions on their residents, such as when they may enter or leave the building.

Is Your Loved One Receiving Proper Care During the Pandemic?

If you have concerns that your loved one is being neglected as a resident in a nursing home or assisted living facility, we encourage you to contact our law firm immediately.

At PKSD Law, we fight tirelessly to protect elderly residents in long-term care facilities from nursing home abuse and neglect. Our Wisconsin nursing home abuse lawyers are ready to learn more about your situation in the free consultation we offer. This meeting does not give you any obligation to pursue a claim, but it can be helpful to find out if you may have a case and get answers to your legal questions.

If we represent you, we accept these cases on contingency, so there is nothing to pay us up front or while we work on your case. We only get paid our fees if we obtain compensation for you.

PKSD Law. Trusted legal help working for you. 877-877-2228

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