ITHACA, N.Y.—The New York State Department of Health has said they are “continuing to monitor” the ongoing outbreak at the Oak Hill Manor nursing home in Ithaca. Since Thanksgiving, 11 people have died at the facility after an outbreak of COVID-19 infected dozens of residents and staff members.

Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa confirmed that all of the deaths so far have been residents, not staff members. Six deaths were announced on Monday, Dec. 21, all of which took place over the previous nine days.

The state Department of Health is in charge of contact tracing and investigation when a positive test is found in nursing homes, which also explains, in part, why there was a significant delay between the string of six deaths that occurred between Dec. 12 and Dec. 21 and the actual public announcement, which didn’t come until Dec. 21.

The state also recently conducted its second unannounced inspection at the Oak Hill facility on Dec. 18, following one at the end of November. The department found no violations at the facility. Oak Hill officials could not be reached for comment.

“Ensuring that long term care facilities are adhering to strong infection control measures has been a clear priority for DOH,” said Department of Health Jeffrey Hammond. “DOH has conducted two unannounced COVID-19 Focus Infection Control inspections on Nov. 30 and Dec. 18 at Oak Hill to ensure compliance with infection control practices and CDC-supported guidelines issued by New York State and no deficiencies were cited. The facility has sufficient PPE and have tested residents and staff. DOH is continuing to monitor this situation at Oak Hill.”

Kruppa said the county health department and Oak Hill administrators had been in frequent contact earlier in the outbreak at the facility, but that any deaths are officially reported to the state’s Department of Health. The most recent spate of deaths came during a time when the county health department and Oak Hill Manor had fallen out of touch.

“There just happened to be a timeframe over the last few days where we had not talked to them, so we hadn’t gotten any updates,” Kruppa said.

He added that the reason the deaths did not show up in Tompkins County’s daily COVID-19 updates is because they did not occur at Cayuga Medical Center, where they would have been automatically reported. Kruppa said the patients had not been taken to CMC because, similar to a significant amount of the population at Oak Hill Manor, the patients had “do not resuscitate” orders in place or were already in palliative care. In those instances, the plans those individual patients had in place did not call for them to be transported to the hospital in the case of an end-of-life situation. Thus, none of the Oak Hill Manor residents have died at CMC.

Kruppa said the facility is registered as a skilled nursing facility, the highest rating that a nursing home can attain and indicative that Oak Hill is capable of providing care for those suffering from COVID-19. However, he did not know what type of individual treatments had been employed for patients during the current outbreak over the last month.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com