Two elderly men have died in a newly detected COVID-19 outbreak that has swept through the nursing home unit of a large Albuquerque retirement community.
A La Vida Llena resident in his 90s died Thursday and a resident in his 80s died Friday morning, state officials announced Friday afternoon. Both men had underlying medical conditions.
The men were among 22 coronavirus cases affiliated with the sprawling community in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights that 425 people call home.
Those who tested positive are 19 residents and three staffers, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.
Results of additional tests are pending.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said that the situation is being investigated but that it appears a person working at the facility who didn’t know they had the virus unknowingly spread it to residents.
She said the state has aggressively put in place measures to restrict visits at nursing homes and similar facilities and urged the businesses to maintain strict protocols for employees and others who still have to enter, such as people making deliveries, to try to stop the spread of the virus.
“It is very troubling and a sad day for all of us to see that an area where our most vulnerable populations are at risk have in fact suffered from COVID-19,” Lujan Grisham said.
La Vida Llena had earlier this week announced a single positive COVID-19 case among its residents. The person tested positive on March 28, a company spokesperson said.
The resident had been exposed by a “private caregiver” and subsequently placed in isolation, according to a message on La Vida Llena’s website.
In response to that case, the facility said it began temperature checks and other screening measures for caregivers entering the property. It had previously restricted visitors.
A spokesman for La Vida Llena’s parent company said the new COVID-19 cases were confirmed late Thursday after being tested on Wednesday.
Those cases were in residents living in La Vida Llena’s “Health Care” section, which is essentially the nursing home portion of the complex, said Mark Goodman, the corporate director of community development for La Vida Llena’s parent company.
La Vida Llena’s campus, near Montgomery and Morris NE, serves a range of populations. In addition to the nursing home component, it also has “independent living” and “assisted living” arrangements.
Goodman said Friday there was COVID-19 testing available on-site to all residents and staff at the facility. Health care workers from Presbyterian Healthcare Services were seen in there Friday afternoon wearing protective gear at a temporary testing site on the facility’s grounds.
Albuquerque Police Department officers were also on the scene to assist medical personnel and prevent any potential problems after the outbreak was announced, according to an APD spokesman.
Mayor Tim Keller said Friday there are “challenges” around determining who is a health care worker and needs to be at the site and who does not.
“We are working through these challenges,” he said. “There are protocols being developed especially in other parts of the country that we are rapidly adopting here.”
The La Vida Llena cases mark the first known outbreak of coronavirus at a nursing home setting in New Mexico, but it’s one of many around the country.
There had been outbreaks of coronavirus at nursing homes and long-term care facilities in Washington, New Jersey, Tennessee, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland, the Associated Press reported on Thursday. Those types of outbreaks have led to at least 2,300 infections and contributed to more than 450 deaths, according to the AP.
While COVID-19 can strike anyone, people 65 and older and those with underlying medical conditions have a higher risk for serious illness.
“Unfortunately, these outbreaks in nursing homes may be inevitable – it seems to be all across the country because of the close proximity and the age demographics” of the residents, Keller said.
Albuquerque’s Environmental Health Department inspectors this week began boosting outreach to the city’s approximately 150 nursing homes to ensure they are following proper guidelines during this pandemic.
Longtime La Vida Llena resident Art Schreiber said he is disappointed with how the facility has handled the situation, including the level of communication with residents.
The 92-year-old is currently living at an off-site La Vida Llena assisted-living unit in Southeast Albuquerque with nine other people – at least one of whom moved in earlier this week from the main campus. Schreiber said a nurse told him Friday morning that the newcomer is now in quarantine because her roommate from the main campus had tested positive for COVID-19.
As of midday Friday, Schreiber, a longtime New Mexico broadcaster and journalist, said he had not been tested for the virus.
“I’m concerned because selfishly I’m 92 years old and I’ve had a very serious lung problem,” said Schreiber, who was treated last year for blood clots in his lungs.
He is also questioning whether the facility has taken enough precautions, noting that the dining room in his unit was still open.
La Vida Llena announced this week that it was closing its dining room at the direction of the city’s Environmental Health Department. A spokesman did not immediately respond to a question about the location where Schreiber lives.
“I have friends who are in these kind of facilities all over the country and everybody was telling me how they were locked down and they were delivering meals to people’s rooms,” Schreiber said. “I wondered why we weren’t doing that.”
Journal staff writer Matthew Reisen contributed to this report.