Alexa Rivera, a 47-year-old construction estimator living in Brooklyn, lost her mother, Ana Celia Martinez, 78, after she was exposed to COVID-19 at Our Lady of Consolation nursing facility in West Islip, Long Island. Rivera is now suing the nursing home and has started the organization Voices For Seniors, which advocates for other families who’ve lost their loved ones to the coronavirus in nursing homes. Here, she tells the story behind her suit …
When we brought my mother to Our Lady of Consolation Nursing & Rehabilitative Care Center for physical therapy in January, staffers told us they’d keep her safe. Instead, they gave her COVID-19, kept us in the dark and sent her to the hospital when it was too late.
My mother had a knee-replacement operation in August 2019, which went very well at first, but her recovery didn’t go as smoothly as we anticipated. A few months later, we decided she needed in-patient care and admitted her to Our Lady of Consolation. We were initially impressed by a large sign in their lobby stating that it “was the best nursing home on Long Island.” This gave us a false sense of security as we wanted nothing but the best for our mom.
She was supposed to come home by mid-February. But as her discharge dragged on, the state locked down to stop the spread of the coronavirus and my mother was forced to stay where she was. Two weeks later, she was telling us she had a fever. She said she had body aches, diarrhea. Attendants at the nursing home told me and my sister, Vivian, “We’re checking everyone’s temperature. Your mother is healthy.” Shortly after that, my mother couldn’t talk. The next few days, whenever we called her, we couldn’t get through. When Vivian reached my mother’s social worker at the nursing home, she was told, “Your mother is fine. I asked your mother if she wanted to talk to you, and she said no.”
That’s when we knew something was wrong. My mother always wanted to talk to us.
A few days later, the nursing home tried to discharge her. The medical director said, “I can send your mother home with an oxygen tank.”
I said, “My mother didn’t go there with an oxygen tank. You’re going to find out what’s wrong with her.”
He said, “You want us to take her to the hospital?” I said yes.
That night they sent her to the Good Samaritan Hospital, which is just 50 feet away from the nursing facility. By the next morning my mother had a collapsed lung, and the day after her kidneys failed. That night, we got a call from the attending doctors at the ICU, who told us our mother had died because of COVID.
Hearing that, I just broke down. I collapsed on the floor, crying. I begged God to take me instead.
Later I found out that Gov. Cuomo had mandated state nursing homes take patients from hospitals, even without testing them for COVID. Our Lady of Consolation had been a revolving door; so far, they have reported 40 deaths due to COVID.
In short, my mother died because Cuomo wanted to free up hospital beds. But he had the USS Comfort and the Jacob Javits Center for COVID-positive patients — why didn’t he send them there?
In June, my sister and I hired an attorney, who found out that Our Lady of Consolation has been cited more than 30 times for negligence and other violations, including the failure to properly maintain an infection prevention and control program, as recently as September 2019. We immediately filed a lawsuit against the nursing home at the Brooklyn Supreme Court. [A spokesperson for Our Lady of Consolation told The Post in an e-mail, “We cannot comment on pending litigation or the care provided to any individual. Catholic Health Services and Our Lady of Consolation Nursing & Rehabilitative Care Center are dedicated to delivering high quality, compassionate care which is integral to our mission. We strongly deny any improper treatment.”]
Vivian and I have now started a Facebook page called Voices For Seniors, encouraging others who’ve lost loved ones to COVID in nursing homes to advocate for their rights. So far, we’ve participated in a few legislative hearings and held a few rallies, and our group is almost 4,000-strong, with state chapters in New Jersey, Arizona and Michigan. We also created a Spanish chapter called Voces Para Ancianos.
We’re seeking reform for all seniors, including veterans who died in droves. We also want to know the actual count of nursing-home deaths across New York state. They’re still saying 6,600, but we know it’s much more. Our families deserve this information. No amount of money will bring my mother back. What I want is accountability.
Gov. Cuomo insisted on sending COVID-positive patients into nursing homes — a move that he himself described as “fire to dry grass.” Cuomo’s mandate left a path of destruction, broken hearts and broken families that will never be the same. He has failed us, he has failed the elderly who voted for him, and there has to be some responsibility for that.
I feel robbed of my mother. Her grandchildren loved her. She played video games with my nephews, she played princess dress-up with my niece, she played cards and did puzzles with all of us. I know she had more life to live. And she would still be here if the nursing home had protected her — rather than exposing her to a fatal disease while not doing enough to save her.
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