Coler Is Not Empty: Letter to Mayor Urging Him to Reconsider Plan to Bring COVID-19 into nursing home on Roosevelt Island

March 18, 2020

Dear Mayor de Blasio,

At a recent press conference, sharing a plan to increase the number of hospital beds across the city within the next several weeks, you mistakenly stated: “the Coler facility on Roosevelt Island, an H+H facility that was empty… is being immediately brought back online” with 350 beds to care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coler is far from empty. It is an active nursing home and rehabilitation facility, and home to more than 500 people receiving long-term skilled nursing care on Roosevelt Island.

I have the honor of working with Coler residents who are living with paraplegia, largely due to gun violence, in a program called OPEN DOORS. The CDC’s primary recommendations to prevent the virus’ spread are not available to our members who cannot wash their own hands, and are reliant on healthcare workers for basic and pandemic needs.

Also, a substantial number of Coler residents are over 65. And all residents have serious, chronic medical conditions requiring an institutional level of care, and many have lung disease, diabetes, and heart disease that place them at an even higher risk for serious illness and death from COVID-19.

Nursing home residents have been among the first COVID-19 fatalities in the United States. Seattle’s Kirkland Facility highlights the unique vulnerability faced by people in congregate care facilities.

I understand this is an unprecedented pandemic and immediate action is required, but I respectfully request you reconsider bringing hundreds of COVID-19 patients to Coler. We know that this novel coronavirus is transmitted via droplets and on surfaces. However, a letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine published yesterday suggested aerosol spread may be possible. Given how medically vulnerable Coler’s residents are, we are concerned that treating COVID-19 patients in the same building as Coler’s long-term residents could result in more cases, morbidity, and mortality.

We demand an immediate response to our concerns as well as explicit information at the city, state, and federal levels as to what protections/interventions are being made to mitigate COVID-19 infection among Coler residents and the medical staff who care for them, many of whom still have no choice but to use public transportation to get there.


Jennilie Brewster, Project Lead OPEN DOORS

CC: Governor Andrew M. Cuomo; Commissioner Deanne Criswell, NYC Emergency Management; NY Senator Jose M. Serrano; Assembly Member Rebecca A. Seawright; Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer; City Council Member Ben Kallos

Jennilie Brewster is an artist who works in various forms. She runs the arts-and-justice initiative OPEN DOORS on Roosevelt Island.