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COVID Surge Impacting Dunkirk Facility

DUNKIRK — COVID-19 numbers are starting to become alarming at the Chautauqua Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Dunkirk. According to a facility spokeswoman, there have been 34 positive tests involving employees while 40 of the residents are also battling the infection over the last two weeks.

“The safety and health of Chautauqua Nursing and Rehabilitation Center residents and staff is, and always has been, of paramount importance,” said Dawn M. Harsch, director of corporate communications for VestraCare, which owns the facility. “Throughout the pandemic, we have maintained open channels of communication with family members and worked diligently to meet staff education thresholds regarding important topics such as infection control, proper use of PPE, ways to stay safe outside of the workplace and more. These efforts, coupled with our evidence-based clinical practices, allow us to assess residents’ emergent needs and incorporate proactive measures into their care on a daily basis.”

Harsch also said 10 other staff members have been furloughed due to a member of their household testing positive for the virus. Those being care for at the home, she said, “are receiving expert COVID-foused treatment.”

News of the increasing cases, reported only in the OBSERVER and The Post-Journal, came to light over the weekend when family members began reaching out to our newspapers. All voiced their concerns regarding a lack of information on case numbers for both the employees and residents.

“We all understand the horrific effects of COVID, yet many family members of our cherished elderly continue to question the often barbaric state mandates and regulations during this time,” wrote one family member. “The frail and elderly have been denied one of the few pleasures they have left at this time in their lives, friends and family, in order to keep them safe from COVID. Yet, not one friend or family member of a resident, has brought COVID into (the facility) and their numbers are very high.”

Another individual offered the same sentiments. “Family members of residents have a right to know what protocols are in place to ensure proper care of our loved ones who live at the Chautauqua Nursing & Rehabilitation Center while staff continues to test positive,” wrote another family member. “We have a right to know the accurate number of how many staff and residents are testing positive. We demand to know what the administration is doing to hold staff who test positive accountable. The blatant disregard for following Centers for Disease Control and Department of Health guidelines is now resulting in the unnecessary and untimely deaths of our elderly loved ones!”

As of Thursday, at least two deaths were tied to the facility from the virus.

For its part, the five-star rated facility, which employs nearly 300 people, responded quickly to inquiries regarding the situation from the OBSERVER. Harsch said the center is currently in the midst of vaccinating its residents. “(We) continue to work closely with the Health Department and CDC and was fortunate to be among the first to receive the vaccine designed to protect our residents and staff,” she said. “Our first clinic was held on December 23 with the second clinic scheduled for Jan. 13.”

Before the holidays, the Chautauqua Nursing & Rehabilitation Center had been fairly untouched by the virus, reporting only one case by a staff member through a federal website in September. According to current county statistics, there were 131 active COVID cases in the Dunkirk ZIP code through Wednesday.

Before being purchased by VestraCare, the Chautauqua Nursing & Rehabilitation Center served as the Chautauqua County Home for many years. County legislators approved the sale of the site, which became official, in 2014.

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