Jodi Gill, like family members of many residents of Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, had questions about the care residents received because of problems the facility had even before the COVID-19 outbreak.
“But I always took comfort in the fact that there was a hospital right across the street,” Ms. Gill said.
About 600 yards from Brighton’s front door is Heritage Valley Beaver, a hospital with close ties to the nursing home. Starting in 1982 and continuing until 2004, Heritage Valley — then known as the Medical Center of Beaver County — managed Brighton for Beaver County when the county owned the nursing home.
Heritage Valley decided to end that contract in 2004 because of the departure of the executives who ran the nursing home, said Norm Mitry, Heritage Valley’s president and CEO since 2001.
Heritage Valley, though, continued to treat Brighton residents if they needed emergency or specialized care. And Brighton’s medical director since 2012, Dr. David Thimons, was on staff at Heritage Valley from 2008 until February, as director of its osteopathic medical education program.
But, Ms. Gill and others have wondered since the outbreak began, how did such a deadly infectious disease break out at a facility so close to a hospital?
“We did everything they would allow us to do,” Mr. Mitry said. “Clearly, they are a separate organization. We served all their patients that they transferred from the nursing home over to the Beaver hospital.”
Only about 60 Brighton residents who were known to be COVID-19 positive — out of 82 who died and 332 overall who tested positive — were treated at Heritage Valley Beaver, Mr. Mitry said.
Most of those patients were stabilized and sent back to Brighton, he said. A few died in the hospital, though Mr. Mitry could not say how many.
At least some of the residents had “Do Not Resuscitate” orders that would have prevented them from receiving any extraordinary or invasive care to save their lives. That might have prevented them from being sent to the hospital, Mr. Mitry noted.
“We can only treat the folks that they transferred over,” Mr. Mitry said. “We couldn’t go over there and say, ‘Send this one, send that one.’”
“Brighton Rehab made the decision to manage the pandemic internally with their employees, their medical staff, Dr. Thimons and his staff,” Mr. Mitry said. “They opened up their own COVID unit over there. They tried to control the situation. It was their decision.”
And, Mr. Mitry noted: “Early on, I do think they thought [the outbreak] was contained within their COVID unit.”
The majority of those who were sent to the hospital were treated in April and May, when the outbreak was at its worst at Brighton, he said. But Heritage Valley Beaver, which had set up a separate COVID-19 unit in anticipation of dozens of patients from the region, never came close to capacity for such patients, he said.
Mr. Mitry said Heritage Valley offered to help Brighton early on by providing some protective equipment, helping to fit N95 masks and offering advice.
“We talked to them pretty regularly throughout the early part of the pandemic,” he said.
But Brighton never asked for help with staffing, either nursing or doctors, he said, though Heritage Valley at one point provided some contacts for agency help.
Dr. Thimons also did not ask anyone at Heritage Valley about his decision to use the controversial treatment of hydroxychloroquine with zinc on residents with COVID-19, Mr. Mitry said.
“We did not get consulted on it because we didn’t use it ourselves,” Mr. Mitry said.
Dr. Thimons did not respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Mitry understands why families wonder why Brighton residents were not sent to Heritage Valley.
But, he said: “I would hope if they were wondering that at the time, they would have asked Brighton Rehab that question, and Brighton Rehab would have said they evaluated the patients and that they made the clinical decision to provide care within the walls of their facility.”
Still, he said, Heritage Valley staffers were aware of what was happening inside their neighbor’s facility.
“Of course we’ve all very concerned about it,” Mr. Mitry said. “That’s what we do for a living. So clearly, as we saw and read those numbers [of cases and deaths at Brighton] in the media — and this thing got a lot of airplay, as you know — we were concerned about it.
“But they chose to manage it internally.”
Sean D. Hamill
Laura Malt Schneiderman