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Investigation of La Vida Llena found ‘deficiencies’, AG says

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has accused La Vida Llena, an Albuquerque retirement community, of failing to follow public health orders. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The same day La Vida Llena announced a 10th resident had died in its coronavirus outbreak, the state’s top law enforcement official said an investigation has identified several deficiencies in the facility’s handling of COVID-19.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said Thursday that the Albuquerque retirement community, where dozens of residents and employees have become infected with the new coronavirus, has failed to follow public health orders, provided inadequate updates to residents and discouraged personnel from wearing personal protective equipment, or PPE.

Balderas is also raising financial concerns about La Vida Llena, home to over 400 people in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights.

Attorney General Hector Balderas

In a letter Thursday to DeAnn Eaton, CEO for La Vida Llena’s parent company, Balderas wrote that his office’s investigation into the facility is continuing but that he wanted to detail some of the early findings “in the hopes that these deficiencies can be immediately improved upon to prevent future risks of harm to LVL’s staff and residents.”

La Vida Llena, which offers independent living, assisted living, nursing home and memory care, announced its first coronavirus-positive resident in a website post March 31.

The number quickly ballooned.

Testing has revealed 27 cases in residents – 10 of whom have now died – and 28 cases among the roughly 300 La Vida Llena employees, according to information posted on the facility’s website.

In response to Balderas’ letter, La Vida Llena released a statement to the media saying the AG’s Office has not yet interviewed La Vida Llena’s leadership.

“When they do contact us, we will be fully cooperative, including detailing the comprehensive set of actions we’ve taken over the past month to follow the directives and orders issued by state and federal agencies,” the statement said.

The organization also called it “surprising” that Balderas released “incomplete findings of an investigation he describes as in progress.”

In his letter to Eaton, Balderas wrote that La Vida Llena staffers told his office’s special agents that they were discouraged from wearing PPE, and, even when they were urged to use it, none was available.

“Failure to use such equipment is unacceptable around an aging, vulnerable population,” Balderas wrote.

He also wrote that La Vida Llena kept its dining rooms and other facilities open after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency and that management had failed to communicate – both with residents, who often received updates from management after the information was already reported by the media, and with medical providers, who saw residents without being told they had tested positive or been exposed to COVID-19.

In a separate letter to New Mexico Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel, Balderas noted some additional concerns regarding the finances of Haverland Carter Lifestyle Group, a not-for-profit company that owns La Vida Llena and other communities.

Balderas said initial findings show “possible misuse” of La Vida Llena’s assets. Haverland describes La Vida Llena as its “flagship” property.

“Specifically, Haverland Carter has used its control of LVL to fuel Haverland Carter’s corporate expansion by leveraging LVL’s charitable assets for the construction and acquisition of additional continuing-care communities. Ultimately, these findings raise serious concern regarding the fiduciary duties Haverland Carter owes to LVL under both the Charitable Solicitations Act, NMSA 1978, Section 57-22-10, and common law,” Balderas wrote.

La Vida Llena’s statement also addressed the financial allegations, saying “no money has ever been misused.”

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