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Officials seek to ensure seniors’ safety

Robert Candelaria’s mother doesn’t like the blended food at the Ladera Center nursing home, so the last three or four months he’s been taking her a home-cooked meal every day.

“I at least know she got one good meal for the day,” he said.

But, on Thursday, Candelaria was turned away by staff after filling out two questionnaires and having his temperature taken. The facility was limiting visitors in the wake of COVID-19.

Candelaria understands that people in the facility are vulnerable and that the staff needs to do what it can to protect them. But he’s worried nonetheless.

“It saddens me because my mom could go at any time,” Candelaria said. “It’s going to be extremely painful to me if I’m not able to be there.”

Nursing homes and senior care facilities are taking extra precautions as COVID-19 cases sprout up across the state and push officials to minimize the effects of a wider outbreak. Six cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in New Mexico since Wednesday.

Older adults are most at risk, prompting the New Mexico Department of Health to conduct onsite visits of the 269 licensed assisted living facilities statewide.

According to a release from the state Health Department, survey staff will focus on providing COVID-19-related infection control guidance and written visitor protocols and addressing questions and concerns of staff, families and residents.

In Seattle, 18 residents from a single nursing home died following a COVID-19 outbreak. It is unclear how many visits NMDOH has conducted, and a spokesman did not respond to questions Thursday.

“Of course I’m worried about it. I’m always on high alert and I do feel prepared,” said Shantelle Gurule, an assisted living facility administrator.

Gurule said the two facilities she oversees, Hilldale Residential Care Home and Casa Palo Duro, have not been visited in person. Instead, state officials called to check on what precautions her staff was taking.

She said staff is sanitizing every two hours, checking for fevers at the door, making masks and sanitizer available, and having visitors fill out the NMDOH questionnaire. Those questionnaires – given to all visitors – ask if they’ve traveled to a high-risk location, a state with “widespread” transmission or if they have had contact with anyone infected, or show signs of a cough, fever or sore throat.

“From the feedback that we’ve got, our facility is a little more prepared than other facilities that are out here,” Gurule said. “They were really impressed.”

Of those the Journal reached on Thursday, the Good Samaritan Society, Ladera Center, BeeHive Homes and Princeton Place were the only facilities limiting “unnecessary visits” or not allowing visitors until further notice.

Other facilities are taking less restrictive measures but are taking precautions such as keeping sanitizer on hand, and banning anyone – employees or visitors – with symptoms and stopping any outside entertainment.

As for Candelaria, he understands the precautions – seeing staff members clad in gowns and masks – but wonders how long it will be before he sees his mother.

“The majority of these people don’t even have the capability to get to a phone and call their family. … By this, it’s zero contact with your loved ones. You cannot see them; you cannot talk to them,” Candelaria said. “There’s nothing you can do other than hope they’re being taken care of right.”

In the meantime, he will wait.

Staff Writer Pilar Martinez contributed to this report


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