GLENVILLE — An inpatient addiction treatment facility on Glendridge Road is seeing a profusion of COVID-19 infections on-site.
Schenectady County health officials and state regulators both say they are working with Conifer Park to ease the situation there.
Schenectady County is aware of 19 confirmed positive tests in the last 30 days but said there may be more — Conifer Park draws patients from far beyond Schenectady County but only patients who report living at Conifer Park or some other Schenectady County address, or who work there, are included among the 19 positives.
Conifer Park did not return a call seeking comment for this story.
One former patient, a Cauyga County man who checked in the afternoon of May 1 for help with marijuana use, says he left the facility abruptly at 1 a.m. May 4 after growing increasingly dismayed at the situation and conditions there.
Rumors were rife about the number of infections on-site, he said, and there appeared to be little effort to segregate infected people from uninfected patients such as himself.
He was confirmed infected May 6, and still has lingering physical effects from what he ranks as the worst illness of his life.
He and apparently others have reported the situation to Schenectady County Public Health Services.
A county spokeswoman said via email:
“SCPHS is aware of multiple positive cases in the facility and has worked closely with Conifer Park to appropriately place individuals in isolation and quarantine and to institute additional safety precautions.”
The state Office of Addiction Services and Supports, which regulates facilities such as Conifer Park, “is closely monitoring the situation and working with Conifer Park in addressing complaints,” she said.
The outbreak comes as the COVID infection rate decreases and the vaccination rate increases across New York state. Just 1.2% of tests are coming back on a seven-day average in Schenectady County, a fraction higher than the 1.1% positive rate statewide.
Schenectady County meanwhile has the second-highest adult vaccination rate in the state — 73.2% of its residents age 18 or older are at least partly vaccinated.
But Conifer Park’s patients come from all over the region and beyond, and are placed in a congregate setting, potentially one of the riskiest living arrangements during a pandemic.
Rehab facilities have continued to operate through the pandemic, deemed essential and with benefits outweighing the risk of infection; OASAS has provided extensive guidance on minimizing risk of infection.
Asked Tuesday about the situation at Conifer Park, OASAS said via email:
“We are aware of the increase in cases at Conifer Park, and have been working closely with the provider to address this issue and ensure the safety of staff and patients. Throughout the pandemic, OASAS has coordinated with our providers, other state partners, and local health authorities on infection control and providing vaccinations to the staff and clients in these programs. Our providers across the state have remained open and operational throughout the pandemic, and we continue to offer our critical services to all New Yorkers.”
OASAS did not provide a tally of confirmed infections on site.
Joshua Bertot, 42, of Auburn said Tuesday he traveled halfway across the state to Glenville rather than seek treatment closer to home because Conifer Park had helped him with his marijuana habit eight years ago.
“It was a beautiful place and it did a lot of good for me,” he said.
Not this time, Bertot said. When he arrived, he said, the interior seemed in disrepair or disarray; the staff seemed on edge; other patients told him to mask up because there were COVID-positive people on-site; and when patients from other units wandered over, patients from his unit would yell at them to go away.
“I knew something was wrong within 5 or 10 minutes,” Bertot said.
He also saw that group counseling and treatment was not happening. The designated unit for COVID-positive patients was at capacity, he said, and the infected patients were commingled with uninfected.
Bertot pointed out the irony of a one-time tuberculosis hospital becoming a hotspot for another respiratory infection, but said that when six people in close proximity to him tested positive, he had to leave.
He wasn’t symptomatic at the time but soon after tested positive.
Bertot said Tuesday the infection has run its course and he’s OK now, then ran down a list of reasons why he’s not OK:
His voice was ragged as he spoke, his sense of taste hasn’t returned, he’s got muscle pain in the arms and legs, and he gets short of breath.
He works as a truck driver and laborer and won’t go back to either job just yet.
“I’m afraid I can’t do it,” he said. “I look strong but I’m not.”