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Virus takes a toll on NM nursing homes

More than 40% of New Mexico’s COVID-19-related deaths have occurred in residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, a situation state officials are calling tragic and difficult to combat.

The state reported 52 COVID-19-positive deaths among those facilities, according to a breakdown provided Thursday by the New Mexico Department of Health.

That accounts for more than two out of every five New Mexico deaths linked to COVID-19 since New Mexico reported its first known cases in mid-March.

The state has recently started weekly testing in the facilities and on Friday announced it would put $42.6 million in new Medicaid payments toward the facilities to help with the fight.

“Nursing homes are an incredible challenge in New Mexico and around the country, and it is an area I find incredibly disturbing because it’s all vulnerable populations,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said during a Thursday news conference.

Most of the facilities with cases are in the Albuquerque metro area or northwestern New Mexico.

Life Care Center in Farmington has emerged as the newest hot spot, with 26 deaths, most of them occurring in the past week. The state announced seven new deaths among Life Care Center residents on Thursday alone.

La Vida Llena, an upscale retirement community in Albuquerque, has had its own devastating outbreak, with 16 deaths to date in its nursing home unit.

At Genesis Uptown, 54 residents had tested positive and five had died as of Thursday.

Total statewide COVID-19 cases in those facilities reached 231 as of Thursday. That’s up from 99 the week prior. The numbers do not include staff members who tested positive, which some facilities have seen in large numbers.

Dr. David Scrase, secretary of New Mexico’s Human Services Department, said that long-term care facilities worldwide have struggled to contain the virus and that asymptomatic spread is one of the problems. More than 11,000 COVID-19-related deaths have occurred at the country’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities, the Associated Press reported last week.

“You could literally test every worker and every resident every hour, and you wouldn’t know where to stop that surveillance,” Scrase said.

Testing capacity has recently enabled the state to perform surveillance testing at all nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

“At facilities with at least one case, we test all residents and staff weekly; in facilities with no cases, it’s 15% of residents and staff tested every week,” DOH spokesman David Morgan told the Journal in an email.

Though the pandemic has slammed nursing homes nationwide, some locally have faced scrutiny for how they handled it.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has launched an investigation into La Vida Llena, and a spokesman said others are also underway.

“We are actively investigating other facilities to monitor safety practices across the state,” Matt Baca, Balderas’ chief legal counsel, said in a written message to the Journal.

He did not respond to a question asking which other facilities are being probed.

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