At least 25 people have died at a care home amid claims from an industry body that a council’s actions “caused” or “increased Covid-19 deaths”.
Melbury Court in Durham is thought to be the care home with the highest number of deaths in the UK.
County Durham has had the highest number of care home deaths in England and Wales.
Durham County Council said it “strongly refuted” the claim by the County Durham Care Home Association (CHCHA).
Some patients went from the nearby University Hospital of North Durham to Melbury Court without being tested for coronavirus or after a positive test.
Owners HC-One said the 87-bed home was now in “recovery” with many residents returning to health.
It is not known how many people there have been ill.
A BBC investigation has discovered that in a conference call in late March, council officials were told plans to move hospital patients into care homes without testing would be disastrous.
The CDCHA offered to find a specific home or homes where Covid-19 positive or untested people could be cared for rather than have them spread around the network.
This was never acted on and now the CDCHA has calculated there has been an outbreak of coronavirus in 81 of the county’s 149 care homes.
Maria Vincent, who runs Crosshill Care Home in Stanhope, told the council in March that care homes were not set up to accept Covid-19 patients, and described it as “neglect pure and simple”.
She said: “They knew at the beginning how vulnerable older people were because in Spain they’d had numerous people who’d died in care homes.
“With just a little bit of forethought, true collaborative working, we could easily have got through this without the number of deaths we’ve had.”
The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics shows there have been 275 deaths in care homes in County Durham – more than in hospitals.
Local care providers said deaths in care homes in the county are twice as high as the average for the whole of England.
In a letter sent to Durham County Council and seen by the BBC, the CDCHA said: “The council has pursued a policy which has caused and/or increased Covid-19 infections and deaths within care homes in County Durham”.
Samuel Wilson died at Melbury Court in early May, aged 92, after testing positive for Covid-19 following his return from a routine procedure at the University Hospital of North Durham.
The family had objected to him going to hospital, arguing it was too risky amid the pandemic and urged staff to manage his condition in the home, but they were persuaded.
His granddaughter Tracey O’Kennedy said: “The home was relentless for a family member to take him into hospital for a non-essential procedure in the middle of full lockdown.
“In my opinion, they took an unnecessary risk, a risk that cost granddad his life.”
Initially, in County Durham the council initially tied additional funding for coronavirus-related costs to homes being willing to accept people who had tested positive for the virus or were untested, although this was later dropped after objections.
Durham County Council said it “strongly refuted” the accusation from the CDHCA that it had contributed to care home deaths.
It said it had considered the idea of a separate care home for Covid-19 patients but felt it was not appropriate due to the predicted number of cases.
Jane Robinson, corporate director for adults and health, said: “We followed national guidelines and we’ve done absolutely everything that we can do.
“We’ve put in additional financial support, provided PPE, and we’ve provided training and support and psychological support for our care home staff as well.”