NEW YORK — Even though novel coronavirus is highly contagious and spreads easily in congregate care facilities, two local families say a nursing rehab in Bushwick should have done more to protect their elderly fathers from contracting COVID-19 in January, which led to their deaths.
"We were under the impression that he was being quarantined," Carolina Matos said about her father, Tomas, who tested negative for COVID-19 when he was transferred to Buena Vida Continuing Care on Dec. 21.
The father was weak after a bout with pneumonia, and doctors thought rehab would help him.
Instead, Carolina Matos and her husband were shocked when a FaceTime call from a nursing assistant several days later on Christmas Eve didn't initially show her father.
"They put the wrong patient on, 'Hey, here's your dad,' and we're like 'That's not him!,'" said Francisco Cartagena, Tomas Matos' son-in-law. "She shifted across to the next patient, across the room, and there he was."
Carolina Matos said it was then clear that her father, who suffered from some dementia, wasn't being isolated from other residents.
She said she received a call on Jan. 4 that her father had developed a dry cough.
He was sent to New York Hospital-Queens on Jan. 9 with worsening symptoms.
"It was not until I spoke to the doctor in the emergency room that they explained to me 'Your dad is not speaking. Your dad is not moving,'" Carolina Matos said, her voice breaking with emotion.
Tomas Matos, a retired watchmaker, died Jan. 23 at the age of 76.
Diana Ruiz said the Matos' story was very similar to her own father's situation.
Ivan Ruiz, 73, had developed problems after a colonoscopy and was treated for internal bleeding at Bellevue Hospital.
The Ruiz family said Ivan tested negative for COVID a couple of times before he was sent to Buena Vida on Jan. 4 and his daughter thought he would be isolated for two weeks.
Ruiz' wife, Lucelly, said she received a call from her husband a few days later and he sounded terrible.
"He was coughing a lot," Lucelly Ruiz said in her native Spanish. "He was suffocating."
On Jan. 15, Diana Ruiz said the rehab called her and asked for authorization to send her father to the hospital. Ruiz said she was told her father was going back to Bellevue in Manhattan.
But Ruiz said she couldn't find her father at Bellevue.
"I had to call three different hospitals to find out where my father was," Ruiz said.
"I called back Buena Vida and said, 'My father is at Woodhull. I shouldn't be telling you where my father is at. You should be telling me where my father is at,'" Ruiz recounted.
Ruiz said her father was intubated and remained on a ventilator until his death on Feb. 1.
His remains were cremated, because his native Colombia would not receive a person who died with COVID.
PIX11 tried to reach several administrators at Buena Vida to ask them about complaints from the Ruiz and Matos families.
The Director of Nursing didn't call us back and neither did one of the owners we were referred to.
We left voicemails for both.
A real estate website reported last May that Rise Boro Community Partnership had sold the 240 bed, skilled nursing facility for nearly $59 million dollars, during the first wave of the pandemic.
Carolina Matos said she's still bothered by a comment one employee made when she was upset about her father's diagnosis.
"She said, 'Well, we're in a pandemic. Even the president got COVID. And then she hung up the phone.'"