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Care Center faces understaffing

Isabel Braverman - Staff Writer
Posted 5/17/21

LIBERTY - The Care Center at Sunset Lake, the county-owned nursing home, is currently encountering a shortfall of staff.

The Sullivan County Legislature recently passed resolutions creating ten …

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Care Center faces understaffing

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LIBERTY - The Care Center at Sunset Lake, the county-owned nursing home, is currently encountering a shortfall of staff.

The Sullivan County Legislature recently passed resolutions creating ten per diem Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) positions and ten per diem Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) positions, as well as ten part-time Registered Nurse positions.

County Human Resources Commissioner Julie Diescher reported that there has been a “big push” on recruitment efforts to get more nurses into the building.

She said one CNA and one LPN have been hired and they have seen some relief through the per diem hires.

On Thursday during the legislature's Health and Family Services Committee meeting Care Center Administrator Burt Kohn said, “Staffing continues to be a problem.”

There are currently 85 open positions, which include the new positions the legislature just approved creating.

Many of the openings are unfilled nursing-related vacancies and the county is continuing to advertise for open positions and work with staffing agencies.

For the month of March, there were 83 residents at the Care Center, although that number is always changing, Kohn said. It has a capacity of 146 beds. There are 124 active employees.

The most recent numbers show that 49 percent of the staff is vaccinated against COVID-19 and 87 percent of residents are vaccinated.

Four staff members have tested positive for COVID last week, and there are zero cases among the residents.

Visitation at Care Center sparks fury

Due to the pandemic, visitation policies at the Care Center at Sunset Lake have changed. In the beginning of the pandemic, visitors were not allowed inside the building.

However, Care Center Administrator Burt Kohn said the guidelines are constantly changing and they have to wait for guidance from the New York State Department of Health.

Visitors are currently allowed to visit with their family member for two 30-minute blocks per week. The residents can go into an empty room inside the facility and the family member can meet them in there, they cannot go beyond that point.

But last week Catherine Scott, whose mother is a resident at the Care Center and who is Vice President of Family Council, said a new state law that was signed in March would allow each resident to have a designated caregiver who is allowed to enter the building.

This person is there to take care of their emotional needs, they are not a medical caregiver.

The new law was lauded by essential caregivers who say that social isolation and loneliness can take a toll on older adult's health and mental wellbeing.

Scott said that she has not been inside her mother's room at the nursing facility since March of last year.

“We're talking 15 months of isolation; emotions are high,” Scott told legislators during the Health and Family Services Committee meeting on Thursday.

She expressed anger that the Care Center administration had not yet released new guidelines for caregivers to be able to see their family member, even though the law was supposed to take effect the next day.

“The importance of this legislation is to make sure residents are thriving and cared for,” Scott said.

Legislator and Chair of the Health and Family Services Committee Nadia Rajsz asked County Attorney Michael McGuire to look into the new bill as they wait for guidance from the state.

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