Families of the more than 100 veterans who died at the New York State Veterans’ Home in Queens in what they describe as “one of the worst COVID outbreaks in the state” are now suing the state-run facility for negligence.
The suit, filed on Nov. 4 in federal court, alleges the State Veterans’ Home did not follow COVID protocols and violated residents’ Fourteenth Amendment right “to conditions of reasonable care and safety” by failing to “implement basic infection control protocols and provide adequate medical care to the State Veterans’ Home’s residents.”
It also claims families of the residents were not even made aware that their relatives contracted the virus until after they died.
“This class-action is brought because defendant NYS-VH patently grossly failed to be a steward of the well-being of our nation’s and state’s veterans, by failing to timely act to protect their veterans/residents from exposure to a deadly COVID-19 outbreak in their facility,” reads the lawsuit, reviewed by The Post.
It goes on to allege that the nursing home’s “actions and inactions, including their delayed response to properly monitor staff, students, companions, aides and visitors to their facility, precipitated one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in all the State of New York.”
“It is utterly shameful how the Defendants, who owed a duty of care to our state’s and nation’s veterans, dragged their feet and left our vulnerable heroes at the mercy of the deadly virus.”
The federal lawsuit notes that the State Veterans Home was the subject of 87 complaints and was cited for 16 violations of public and safety health codes between 2019 and 2023.
Prior to the pandemic, the facility was cited for failing to “provide and implement an infection prevention and control program and not ensuring that proper hand hygiene practices were performed during tracheostomy care” and for failing to “assess their residents when there are significant changes in condition,” according to the lawsuit.
It also cites news stories from 2020, when several employees at the facility said medical care was compromised because so many workers called out sick.
One such employee said, “If you’re unable to take care of these residents that have it, and you don’t have the staff, then you should let them go [elsewhere] and let the state know you can’t do it.”
“What [the facility administrator] is afraid of is if we let these people go, they’ll shut us down,” the staff member told The City.
The outlet reported on May 5, 2020 that bodies were being held in the facility’s poplar unit, and staffers there were assigned to float among the remaining units — which may have caused the virus to spread.
It also reported that COVID-positive patients were not moved out of rooms they shared with residents who were believed to be virus-free.
“They left them in the room with the ones that were not [positive] because their thought was, ‘Well, they’re all going to get it anyway,’” one employee said at the time.
Another added, “There was just no effort to try to even maintain any kind of minimizing transmission or anything.
“Nobody took it seriously.”
Other employees described how nearly 1,000 boxes of personal protective equipment were left outside the St. Albans nursing home, leaving them to be gnawed on by rats and snakes.
State Sen. Leroy Comrie, a Democrat from Queens, said at the time he had received complaints from staff at the Veterans’ Home, indicating that mismanagement had been “rampant.”
“Since this whole thing started there have been problems with supply, delivery and maintenance and even acquisition of proper PPE,” he said.
But in a statement to The Post, a Health Department spokesperson said the facility “continues to receive, manage and use a supply of PPE items in an ongoing effort to combat the pandemic, stay prepared for any future developments and abide by state and federal regulations governing PPE supply requirements.”
The federal lawsuit was filed earlier this month by Louise Loria Hanel, the sister of resident Robert A. Loria, and Yvonne Maria Parson, the daughter of World War II veteran James Hutcherson.
Loria died on April 14, 2020 after he caught COVID and died in the home.
The lawsuit alleges his family “was never informed that he was ill or that he even tested positive for COVID-19,” adding that Hanel “only received a phone call to inform her he had passed away.”
Hutcherson, meanwhile, died of COVID on April 8, 2020 at the age of 93. He had suffered from other conditions including Parkinson’s disease and dementia as well.
The lawsuit claims that after he was diagnosed with the virus, staff members failed to bring him to a hospital for treatment.
The families are seeking unspecified damages as well as the cost of attorneys’ fees.
The Post has reached out to the New York State Department of Health and the State Veterans’ Home for comment.
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