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City inspectors to start checking nursing homes

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

With COVID-19 now detected at one of Albuquerque’s most prominent retirement communities, city officials say they are intensifying communication with local nursing homes.

La Vida Llena, a sprawling, 425-resident community in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights, announced this week that one of its residents was in the hospital and had tested positive for COVID-19.

In a message on its website Tuesday, La Vida Llena’s executive director Linda Givens said the resident was exposed “by a private caregiver” and was already in isolation when symptoms began and they were transported to the hospital.

“There was no exposure to other residents and attending staff had been using appropriate” protective gear, the note states.

The resident, who had independently hired the caregiver, tested positive last Saturday, a representative of La Vida Llena’s parent company told the Journal.

The facility received the test result from the state Department of Health on Monday and notified all residents with Tuesday’s memo, said Mark Goodman of Haverland Carter LifeStyle Group, which operates La Vida Llena.

The facility has now begun screening private caregivers on arrival by checking temperatures and using a questionnaire, Goodman said.

Mayor Tim Keller on Thursday cited the La Vida Llena case in announcing new monitoring measures by the city.

“We’re going to have to start inspecting our nursing homes,” he said during a media briefing. “We know that these are extremely high-risk areas.”

People over 65 and those with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 disease and the state of New Mexico last month began restricting visitation at nursing homes.

It’s unclear how many of New Mexico’s current coronavirus cases are at nursing homes; a state Department of Health spokesman said he did not have that number, but there are media reports of at least one more.

New Mexico In-Depth recently reported that Rio Grande Gracious Retirement Living facility in Rio Rancho ordered a lockdown after one of its residents tested positive for COVID-19.

In Albuquerque, Environmental Health Deputy Director Mark DiMenna said the city’s coronavirus-related contact with nursing homes had been limited up to now, though it had responded to a complaint about La Vida Llena and told the facility it needed to close its dining room.

The facility is now taking residents’ phone orders for meals, according to Givens’ message.

DiMenna said inspectors will now contact the approximately 150 other facilities around the city to discuss best practices, ask for details about their operation and answer questions.

He said nursing homes should have closed dining rooms and other meeting spaces, and canceled group activities. They should also have isolating protocol for residents who are waiting for test results or showing coronavirus symptoms, he said. The city will create some specific guidance related to food service since that’s something “needing clarification.”

To avoid in-person contact for the time being, he said field inspections will happen only if necessary.

“We’re not going to show up and knock on doors at this point,” he said.

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