NYC nursing home accused of giving veteran patients experimental virus drugs

St. Albans treated patients with hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin for COVID-19 even though some did not have the virus

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A nursing home in New York is under scrutiny for giving veteran patients experimental drugs to treat COVID-19 while some families had no knowledge of the decision.

New York State Veterans’ Home at St. Albans in Jamaica, N.Y. has been serving veterans and their families since 1993 but may have done more harm than good, The City reported. The state allowed all 613 nursing homes the right to administer a cocktail of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin to treat COVID-19 to their patients.

Read More: Healthcare officials in Washington work to address racial disparities in COVID-19 vaccine distribution

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Former President Donald Trump touted the experimental drug last year despite health experts warning of possible drug toxicity. There are also potential side effects such as anemia, neuromuscular damage, vision impairment, and fatal heart arrhythmia. The risk of these side effects is more prominent in the elderly and the vulnerable.

On April 24, the FDA advised against the use of these drugs due to the risk of heart rhythm problems. Authorization was pulled in June but some nursing home patients already lost their lives after taking the drugs.

The City, which is collaborating with Columbia Journalism Investigations and Type Investigations on the MISSING THEM project, obtained medical documents that showed that New York State Veterans’ Home at St. Albans gave these drugs to at least 62 patients, including some who did not even have COVID-19. The outlet identified 42 patients who died between March and April 2020 but it is not entirely clear which patients received the drugs.

James Hutcherson, 93, was one of those patients. He’d been living in the nursing home after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and dementia. He died on April 8 and cardiac arrest was listed as the cause on his death certificate with pneumonia and COVID-19 as contributing factors.

His daughter, Yvonne Parson, was stunned that the experimental drugs had been given to her father after she viewed his hospital bill.

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Tablets on a blister pack of Hydroxychloroquine. (Photo illustration by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Parson had no prior knowledge of her father being given these drugs, despite former staff informing The City that family members were to be consulted on care decisions despite any proxy.

“If they’d told me anything… I would have told him, you cannot give that to my father. He’s 93 years old,” Parson said. “There’s no way in hell I would have let them give my father that medication.”

Parson had been previously told by doctors that her father did not have COVID-19 and that his test was negative. Nonetheless, the facility treated him as though it had been positive. She requested his medical records in September, but the nursing home still has not provided them.

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“You have to be referred through Albany,” Dr. Thomas Bizzaro, a cardiologist and St. Albans medical director, said to the outlet. “I can’t help you.”

Bizzaro is the same person who signed Hutcherson’s death certificate and was also involved in the care of another veteran who died under similar circumstances.

Stephen Durnin, 85, was a Marine Corps private in the Korean War and had been living in St. Albans. A complaint filed against the nursing home alleged he had not been quarantined as COVID-19 spread but was dismissed due to a “lack of evidence,” according to federal Freedom of Information Act request.

Colleen Hanley recalled asking Bizzaro if hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin was safe for her uncle who previously had strokes. He also suffered from dementia and hypertension.

“Is that safe for him?” she remembered asking Bizzaro. “He said, ‘That’s what we have to give him.’”

Durnin died on April 22 and cardiac arrest due to pneumonia and “presumed COVID-19,” was listed on his death certificate.

Hanley claimed her uncle was in complete “agony,” and “neglected,” and felt she could have done more. She also requested his medical records but was denied.

“I almost feel like I failed him,” said Hanley. “I kept promising I would bring him home.”

St. Albany’s deferred all questions to the State Department of Health who demurred on a response through a spokesperson.

Erin Silk wrote in an email that the department was “unable to comment due to pending legal and enforcement actions,” The City reported.

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