Albany family wants accountability after losing two Teresian House residents to coronavirus

Jill Konopka
Updated: May 17, 2020 07:40 PM
Created: May 17, 2020 07:36 PM

ALBANY -- An Albany family wants the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate after they lost two loved ones who tested positive for coronavirus, who were residents of the Teresian House.

Agnes Minissale was 93 years old when she died April 22 after being taken to the hospital two days earlier.

“For over a month we weren’t even able to go and see her.  And then in May, my Father in Law passed away, he was on the 6th floor. I’m like something is going on here,” said Ted Minissale who is the youngest son of Agnes. 

Ted’s wife Donna’s father Edward Bridgeford lived two floors up from Agnes at Teresian House.  The 90-year-old U.S. Navy Veteran passed away at the Albany Stratton V.A. Medical Center according to the Minissale Family on May 4, confirming that Bridgeford also died from COVID-19.

The family said they want accountability. 

“So we contacted the Attorney General and they’re investigating.  We were unable to see both our parents. It was one of the hardest things we could’ve done for ourselves and for them.  Like they said in the beginning, if it gets into these nursing homes, it’s going to go through like wildfire and it did. And they should have been protected. And it’s horrible it’s a nightmare.”   Ted Minissale and his older brother Phil Minissale said their mother had not been tested at Teresian House until she was taken to the hospital with respiratory issues.  Minissale says his father-in-law was only tested at the nursing home after they kept pushing for it, and Edward Bridgeford was part of the residents being tested the family says, per the NYS Department of Health. 

Ted Minissale, his brother, and their sister Cindy Lizzi want answers from state officials. 

“Why wasn’t the things that are mandated now, done in the very beginning. It makes no sense at all. He (Governor Cuomo) said himself if it gets into a nursing home it’s going to go through like wildfire. Why not do this in the beginning. And they never did."

Phil Minissale added, “why would they invite patients from the outside to come into nursing homes. Why would they even do that? It’s almost like they were setting everyone up there for the fall, now what they’re doing is a day late and a dollar short and it’s unconscionable.” 

The family wonders whether their loves ones might still be around if things were handled differently.

Phil Minissale stating, “If they were proactive to begin with, then it would have saved a lot of lives, maybe all of them.” The family is worried for others with loved ones still residing in nursing homes.

Cindy Lizzi is the only daughter of the late Agnes Minissale. She describes her mother as her best friend. The pair, she said, did everything together.  Now, Lizzi is terrified for other families, “we have friends that are there right now, that are at risk and they’ve become like family. So we’re worried about them, we want them to be protected. The day Governor Cuomo said, that he came up with Matilda’s law to protect the most vulnerable, I had such comfort. I said OK, mom’s going to be ok.  So we stayed home, we stayed away and COVID was invited in.”

NewsChannel 13 inquired with Gov. Andrew Cuomo about the concerns of the Minissale family and other families in similar situations.

The Governor sympathized saying he has conversations with people every day who have lost loved ones.

“We lost 139 people yesterday in hospitals. Who is accountable for those 139 deaths? How do we get justice for those families who had 139 deaths. What is justice? Who can we prosecute those deaths. No one, Mother nature, God where did this virus come from? People are going to die from the virus that is the truth. Best hospital system on the globe. Best doctors, best nurses responded like heroes. Every medication, ventilators. The health system wants for nothing. We worked it out so we always had available beds. Nobody was deprived of a bed or medical coverage in any way and still people died. Still people died. Older people, vulnerable people are going to die from this virus. That is going to happen. Despite whatever you do, because with all our progress as a society we can’t keep everyone alive. Despite what everything you do. And older people are more vulnerable. And that is a fact. And that is not going to change.  And look, to me, the really difficult conversations for me are, are “my son was 40 years old. He was not a senior citizen. He did not have a co-morbidity and got this virus because he was an essential worker and doing the right thing and had an aneurism. I thought young people were fine, and he was doing the right thing as an essential worker. There’s a randomness to this virus that it is inexplicable. Why do people do, that’s beyond this.  Whose accountable, you could have a situation where everyone did the right thing.  And everyone tried their best and people still die,” Gov. Cuomo answered.

When asked to comment on families concerns whether current mandates in NYS were in place from the start, some families feel their loved ones could still be here.

The Governor responded, “People rationalize death in different ways. I don’t think there is any logical rationale to say they would be alive today. We always had, look I said from day one ‘the fear is we overwhelm the hospital system and then people die because we couldn’t get them the medical care, that was an accountable avoidable situation. That was Italy by the way.” 

Gov. Cuomo later discussed the criticisms he’s received for increasing the hospital capacity to an extent that the state he says didn’t even need, and added, “but you know, nobody died where we didn’t do everything that we could and that has been true from day 1. It’s true today and it’s true from day one. “

Nursing home workers are being tested twice a week in New York.

Phil Minissale told NewsChannel 13, “we need to see justice. Justice for our mom, for my brother’s FIL to all the residents that are still there. For the families of the residents, those who have passed away. Those who are still sick with it and have suffered so much from this and we need to seek justice and that’s the most important thing. Justice is what we need and justice is what we seek and that’s our message.”

NewsChannel 13 reached out to state health officials also. 

According to Public Information Officer Jill Montag, “The New York State Department of Health launched an unannounced COVID-19 focus inspection at the Teresian House Nursing Home on May 4, 2020, and no deficiencies were identified. The facility was found to be in compliance with infection control practices and CDC-supported guidelines issued by New York State.”

The NYSDOH also provided Newschannel 13 this additional information,  “Since March 1, 2020 DOH Division of Nursing Homes Surveillance team has conducted onsite Infection Control Focus Surveys at 175 New York State nursing homes and 232 adult care facilities; made more than 700 calls to assess their ability to provide quality care and opened more than 2,700 complaint investigations.The state has greatly supported long term care facilities with more than 10 million pieces of PPE including N95 masks, surgical masks, gowns, coveralls, face shields, gloves, and sanitizer. New Yorkers who have a complaint or concern about a nursing home should contact the Centralized Complaint Intake directly at 1-888-201-4563, so appropriate action can be taken.  Every complaint is reviewed and kept confidential.”

Since April 21, Teresian House has had 17 COVID-19 connected deaths among its residents.  Residents have been receiving emailed updates and there have been a handful of phoned in conference calls with management of the nursing home.  On May 16, families were notified a plan was submitted to the New York State Department of Health to comply with the state directive to conduct diagnostic testing of its workforce twice a week.  That plan will start to be implemented on Monday, May 18.

NewsChannel 13 had a lengthy conversation over the phone Saturday afternoon with a spokesman for Teresian House in Albany. 

“Anytime we lose someone at Teresian House who is part of the community, we feel sorry and sympathy. And that is something that happens far more routinely then anyone would ever like to see happen. In light of the COVID19 virus and its impact on the vulnerable population, it is extraordinarily sad that as of today (Saturday) there have been 17 deaths attributed to COVID19 and we extend our sympathies to all the families who have lost someone,” said spokesman Paul Larrabee.

“And we recognize that our staff also grieves, they become very close and develop relationships as well with the people they take care of so we extend our sympathies and sorrow to all,” added Larrabee.

Teresian House's actions and response to the pandemic began in early March when visits were limited before they ended altogether to protect residents and staff around March 17.  In April, according to Teresian House spokesman Paul Larrabee, the use of PPE was mandated. And subsequent to that was the first case that was detected at the nursing home, involving a member of the workforce.

Larrabee told NewsChannel 13, “The NYS department of health tested 60 people on April 20 who had been in proximity to that individual.  Teresian House had asked at the time to test the entire resident population and that was rejected. And we continued to ask and were unable to secure tests because they weren’t immediately available in the capital region, you had to either go to the hospital to get a test or you had to have one ordered, from where someone had access to them.  On the 29th of April Teresian House was able to secure a significant allotment of tests independently from the state and was able to test its entire resident population."

This move was made when Gov. Cuomo indicated workforce testing would no longer be limited to symptomatic patients. 

“Everyone who was part of the workforce at Teresian House was directed to be tested by either contacting the hotline that operates 24 hours a day; the NYSDOH or at one of the walk up centers locally where testing was available,” Larrabee explained.

Screenings he added were made available daily.  Additionally, “temperatures have been taken, questions are being asked and anyone who has a confirmed COVID case or demonstrates a symptom through the screening process is immediately removed from the workforce and placed into isolation and quarantined off site, so no one is entering the building who is exhibiting symptoms, does not meet the screening or who has tested and is a confirmed case.”

Regarding concerns over testing to patients earlier in the process, Larrabee explained, “patients are monitored for deviation within their baseline. If they present in a way that requires hospitalization, they are sent to the hospital with the family’s concurrence. And if tests were available at the hospital to help diagnose her condition that is a good thing but I don’t believe tests were immediately prior to any of the days indicated.”

NewsChannel 13 asked whether adequate care has been provided to residents of Teresian House.  Larrabee responded, “undoubtedly every effort has been put forward to keep the virus out and to protect those who live and work within.  We believe there has never been circumstance where a resident was receiving anything other than appropriate care.  And if a circumstance was to rise to that level, we'd do everything in our power to make sure that the care continued at the level that is necessary and essential for that resident and their family. "

On concerns of staffing shortages raised by Teresian families, Larrabee responded “I don't know if I would say there's a staffing shortage.  We have 86 RN's and LPN's on our workforce roster and an additional 175 CNA's however we are also seeking to supplement our staff. We've provided recruitment and notification supplements via social media. We've reached out to the nursing schools, we've encouraged anyone with a license to practice. Contact our HR offices, and 4"08 we can always benefit from adding to our roster, but I would not characterize the workforce as anything other than looking to expand it at this time. “

No new residents have been accepted at Teresian since April 7.  A spokeswoman for the New York State Attorney General responded to an inquiry from NewsChannel 13 to state they don’t confirm or deny investigations.

Copyright 2020 - WNYT-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

Comment on Facebook