New York State Leases Centers-Owned Nursing Home as Emergency COVID-19 Hospital

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in New York City, state officials this week announced the novel step of leasing a brand-new nursing home for use as emergency hospital.

New York State has leased the 600-bed Brooklyn Center for Rehabilitation and Health Care from Centers Health Care, a Bronx, N.Y.-based owner-operator of post-acute and long-term care facilities.

The Commercial Observer initially reported the news, with a spokesperson for Centers confirming the arrangement to SNN Tuesday.

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“Centers Health Care and the ONE70 Group, a construction company that provides building services to Centers Health Care facilities, are helping New York State during this time of a national emergency by offering the new Brooklyn Center site on Buffalo Avenue to local Brooklyn hospitals as an overflow due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Centers director of corporate communications Jeffrey Jacomowitz said. “Both companies are available to help in any way they can for the people of Brooklyn, New York City, and the state of New York during this crisis.”

Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the availability of hospital beds has been a top concern of both providers and policymakers. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), for instance, has waived the three-day hospital stay requirement for Medicare skilled nursing coverage, with the stated goal of freeing up space at acute-care centers by sending non-COVID-19 patients directly to post-acute properties.

“Our actions allow hospitals to reserve beds for the most severely ill patients by discharging those who are less severely ill to skilled nursing facilities,” Seema Verma said earlier this month.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been at the forefront of the charge to repurpose existing infrastructure to help accommodate the predicted spike in COVID-19 cases at the Empire State’s hospitals.

The state had more than 25,000 confirmed cases and 157 deaths as of Tuesday morning, according to a running tally in the New York Times. That represents almost 7% of total reported cases around the globe, the Times reported.

The Centers news came on the same day that Cuomo touted the construction of 1,000 hospital beds at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, a major Manhattan conference destination — with plans to potentially add 1,000 more sub-acute units to the sprawling, 1.8 million-square-foot facility.

The Army Corps of Engineers will also convert dormitories at the State University of New York’s Old Westbury and Stony Brook campuses — along with the Westchester County Center basketball arena in White Plains — into temporary hospitals, the Commercial Observer reported.

“We’re trying to reduce the rate of the spread of the virus, but at the same time, we have to get that hospital capacity up,” Cuomo said during a press conference at the Javits Center.

The reuse of the Centers property as a hospital brings the Brooklyn Center for Rehabilitation and Health Care project full circle. The owner-operator initially bought the facility, formerly St. Mary’s Hospital, for $19.5 million in 2014, but a series of permitting issues delayed the planned conversion into a skilled nursing facility.

The initial plan was for the former hospital, located in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, to replace Centers’ existing Brooklyn Center facility on Coney Island Avenue in Midwood.

The project, funded by an $80 million construction loan, reached completion last December, according to a report in the Brownstoner — though the facility had not yet begun accepting residents, Jacomowitz said. Centers continues to operate the Coney Island Avenue location as normal.

The lack of existing residents is a key factor as more state and municipal governments look to potentially take over nursing homes as hospital overflow units. Due to the extreme frailty of the typical post-acute and long-term care resident, admitting a single COVID-19 case to an active nursing facility could have dire consequences.

“I cannot overemphasize the importance of the fact that one COVID-positive patient can significantly harm many, many patients in nursing homes — and actually pretty much bring the whole building down,” Dr. Arif Nazir, chief medical officer for nursing home operator Signature HealthCARE, told SNN late last week.

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