Coraopolis nursing home’s COVID deaths on the rise

Families concerned with growing numbers of people testing positive for coronavirus at Caring Heights

CORAOPOLIS, Pa. — Several sources told 11 Investigates the number of positive cases and deaths at Caring Heights Community Care and Rehabilitation Center in Coraopolis has jumped in recent weeks. We last talked with two families of residents there after their loved ones tested positive. Now, sadly, they have lost their battles.

Saying goodbye

Lisa Smarra’s father Bob Schrecengost, who tested positive for the virus, first rallied after taking the experimental drug hydroxychloroquine, but just days later, took a turn for the worse.

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"It was very difficult,” Smarra said. “We were able to be outside of his window when he passed away, so there was some comfort in knowing he was not alone."

Michelle Cozzo’s 103-year-old aunt Dee Dee, who also tested positive, took a similar turn. Their family also said goodbye at her window.

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“I think she knew we talked to her, but it was really hard," Cozzo said, fighting back tears.

Their hearts go out to other families now going through the same pain.

"It’s a really unusual difficult time to be a family in mourning. You’re unable to be with your family and friends and do the things people normally do when they have a loved one pass away,” Smarra said.

More cases at Caring Heights

Several sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity told 11 Investigates the number of residents and staff members testing positive at Caring Heights has been on the rise - something both families learned firsthand when their loved ones were fighting COVID-19.

“I know when they tested my aunt, they said other residents tested positive and some employees,” Cozzo said.

Smarra agreed.

“I know there were a number of patients that passed away when my dad had passed away,” she said.

Infection control

Both said it appeared the facility was working hard to control the spread of the virus.

“They had always been wearing their masks, and they were always seemingly, to me, protected," Smarra said.

“From what I know they did with my aunt, they kept checking on her. If she had a symptom, they would check her and quarantine her,” Cozzo said.

Despite the increase in deaths, both families said they believe their loved ones received good care. They were thankful to the staff members working long hours to care for patients, in some cases sleeping at the facility.

Caring Heights response

11 Investigates contacted Caring Heights to ask how many residents and staff members have tested positive at the facility and how many have died.

In response, we received this statement sent from the Caring Heights legal department on behalf of Chief Medical Officer Nancy Istenes.

“The facility acts in the best interest of its residents to promote their health, safety, and welfare. We have worked closely with the Department of Health and continue to follow all necessary guidelines. We have established a personalized care plan for any affected resident and have routinely updated all residents and responsible parties regarding their condition and care. Due to HIPAA regulations, we cannot comment on any personal health information.”

Citing HIPAA regulations, Caring Heights would not comment on the number of cases or deaths there, but families said it’s not fair to keep those numbers secret.

“I think it’s appalling that they don’t provide that information to the public. I think it’s reckless," Smarra said.

Call for transparency

The federal government has issued a directive calling on all nursing homes in the country to publicly release the number of positive cases and deaths at their facilities. An official order to implement the mandate has not been released.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Tuesday she will issue a decision sometime this week on whether the state will enforce the mandate for facilities to publicly release the numbers.

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