Long after the COVID-19 pandemic ceases to make people sick by the millions, those of us in the business of caregiving will study this crisis to learn how to better protect our most vulnerable residents against a sickness that has killed in staggering numbers. The last seven weeks have truly been unprecedented for La Vida Llena and for the nursing home industry across the nation. Every plan, every procedure, every rule we rely on must be revisited, retested and improved because one thing is certain:
This killer virus, invisible and indiscriminate, has no mercy – especially for older Americans and the medically fragile, and especially in group settings where residents and staff by necessity live and work at close quarters.
While the team at LVL has already begun to look hard at every aspect of our business – to make sure that our more than 400 residents are as safe as possible under such grave circumstances – we’re also aware that other entities are also looking hard at how we’ve handled the past seven weeks.
No doubt you’ve seen the headlines and read the criticisms leveled by the New Mexico Attorney General and the Albuquerque Journal newspaper – each of whom quoted a handful of discontented residents, family members and former employees.
At LVL, we absolutely believe in constructive criticism, transparency and addressing problems quickly and decisively. We also believe in facts, like the following:
LVL closed our nursing home Health Care area on March 11, 2020, the very same day that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an executive order mandating nursing home facilities be closed to visitors.
Shortly after that closure action, we received an inspection from the New Mexico Department of Health which indicated that our precautions and procedures were appropriate. City inspectors also arrived at the conclusion that we were responding appropriately.
Initially, testing for COVID-19 was restricted only to people who displayed symptoms of the disease. Thus, asymptomatic people, who might have been infected, were not barred from working at LVL; there was no way that they could have been prevented from working, as they did not exhibit typical symptoms (a persistent cough, shortness of breath, or a fever). Unfortunately, it is likely that subsequent infections arose from asymptomatic workers caring for Health Care residents who did not realize that they were carriers.
As soon as the state Department of Health changed protocol to allow COVID-19 testing for individuals who displayed no symptoms, LVL leadership made arrangements to have all residents and staff in the Health Care area tested. Shortly afterward, testing was made available to all IL residents and staff, as well as staff and residents of Assisted Living and Mi Casa. As of this writing, 98% of independent living residents have tested negative. In addition, Assisted Living and Mi Casa have no COVID-19 positive residents.
At the time of writing this, we have 11 positive tests for COVID-19 among residents of the Health Care area. As of today, 17 residents of the Health Care area have passed away after a positive test for COVID-19. Each of these residents was asymptomatic for COVID-19, complicating their care. Each of the nursing home residents who passed away had serious underlying health conditions. In some cases, loved ones believe that these underlying health conditions represent the most likely cause of death for these residents.
When it comes to closing various facilities within LVL, our team has fully complied with, and continues to work cooperatively with, DOH and other state agencies. Our phased approach to closing independent living facilities like the dining room and the fitness center complied with the Governor’s executive orders and state guidance. It also took into account that those areas are only used by residents of the Independent Living and Assisted Living apartments – areas that have had virtually no positive tests for COVID-19.
In regards to PPE, again we have complied with the state’s guidance. When PPE was urged for caregivers tending to COVID-19 positive patients, we complied. From the first positive COVID-19 cases in Health Care, all caregivers in that area have been wearing full PPE. As testing became available and as increased supplies of PPE were acquired by the state, the rest of the LVL staff and residents were instructed to wear masks at all times, and staff who care for IL residents who have tested positive for the virus are also utilizing full PPE in their service.
Again, we will continue to examine every aspect of our pandemic response to look for areas where we can improve. Our goal is to continue to be one of the best senior living providers in the state and the Southwest – and to make sure each of you feels well cared for. We will continue to communicate with each of you as each development warrants, using every means we have: from delivering physical copies to residents to posting on the LVL website, Facebook page, resident portal, and in the staff areas and broadcasting important updates on Channel 77.
As the Governor works toward a gradual lifting of emergency orders, LVL management will look carefully at how those changes affect the life of our community. We will do everything possible to preserve quality of life without sacrificing health and safety for residents or staff.
Finally, I’d like to take an opportunity to thank our staff, who have worked tirelessly over these past weeks. They are all heroes in my book, making sure that residents are cared for and kept as safe as is possible in the present situation. In particular, I’d like to thank Linda Givens who, during this health emergency, has demonstrated amazing strength and resolve in working with DOH and other government agencies, while at the same time overseeing the operation of LVL as each day brings a new challenge, and all the while attempting to requests and communications from residents. Linda, I so appreciate your steadfastness in this time.
I’d also like to thank each of our residents. You have been extraordinarily cooperative in the midst of changing circumstances and you’ve remained positive in your efforts to work together so that our community remains a place where people are valued and supported.
LVL communication from DeAnn