In a joint investigation with The Buffalo News, we look at a nursing home facility that kept COVID-19 out from the onset through September.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The team at 2 On Your Side works tirelessly to deliver the news of the day. But there are stories that are sometimes too big for one newsroom to cover on its own. The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on nursing homes is one of those stories. 

WGRZ has joined the Solutions Journalism Network and we along with The Buffalo News, Rochester Democrat & Chronical, Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, Minority Reporter, Niagara Gazette, WBFO, WHEC and WXXI are looking into a variety of stories as it relates to how nursing homes handled the pandemic and focusing on caregivers on the front lines.

For our first story, 2 On Your Side spoke to Buffalo News reporters Lou Michel and Scott Scanlon, who found a nursing home that has been able to keep the crippling effects of the pandemic out of their facility through September of 2020.

“Imagine if you are the loved one of someone living under siege with Alzheimer’s disease, or dementia confused enough as it is,” Scanlon said. “Now you have this invisible invader that is causing you and everyone you live with to hunker down.”

Nationwide, nursing homes represent 6% of positive COVID-19 cases, but that 6% accounts for 39% of overall COVID-19 deaths. 

In New York State, 21% of COVID-19 deaths stemmed from nursing homes. 

But there have been a number of nursing homes in New York state that have operated fairly effectively with a culture of caring. 

Looking at state health records, and data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services the Buffalo News identified 16 nursing home facilities in New York that were able to largely keep COVID-19 at bay.

“The facility that really shined was the Slate Valley Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing,” said Michel. 

That facility is located in Granville, New York, Washington County, on the Vermont border.

“One of the things and we believe that it’s the most important involved in a spread of COVID-19 in a nursing home is that most of these nursing homes were in communities, where the Coronavirus spread was very light,” Scanlon said. “So they had very low positive test rates.”

Another tactic featured in the Buffalo News reporting was a neighborhood approach within a facility near Ithaca. 

“They are built in three neighborhood pods of 16 residents each and all the way up into the summer, they had no cases,” Scanlon said,

The company that owns Slate Valley also owns facilities in Buffalo, the Ellicott Center and Buffalo Center. The density and volume of cases in our region, however, is what facilities here are battling against.

“Slate Valley has a much better record compared to those facilities because again, they’re in an isolated area,” Michel said.

The Buffalo News tried to get an interview with the New York State Department of Health for this story but were unable to secure an interview. 

“They kept saying they would get back to me,” Michel said. “Unfortunately, the health department never got back to me to provide an interview, and it was disappointing.”

The health department had been juggling the uptick in positive cases across the state when the Buffalo News sought out an interview, and while an interview wasn’t provided, they were communicating with the news reporters for this story. 

More details from the Buffalo News investigation on what facilities were able to keep COVID-19 out can be found here. 

WGRZ will be continuing our Caregivers On The Front Lines coverage with the Solutions Journalism Network in the coming weeks. 

To learn more about the Solutions Journalism Network we encourage you to visit their website.  

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