As the Journal was preparing its April 26 front-page story about La Vida Llena, we offered the reporter phone interviews with residents, including Mary Brown. Brown’s husband, Norm, a 79-year-old resident of our nursing home unit, passed away on April 16 after testing positive for COVID-19, a disease for which he never displayed symptoms.
Brown, who resides in an independent living apartment, wanted to discuss her husband’s severe heart condition and Parkinson’s disease, which she says are listed on his death certificate as his cause of death. She also wanted to detail the 43 months of excellent care Norm received in the nursing home unit. And she wanted to tell the newspaper about life at La Vida Llena, where she and Norm lived happily for six years before this unprecedented pandemic.
The reporter turned down the interview offers.
The Journal story, headlined “This Is Not Right … We Were All Worried,” included anonymous staffers, disgruntled ex-employees and “several people with ties to the facility.” It repeated preliminary findings publicized by N.M. Attorney General Hector Balderas, whose investigators have not spoken to La Vida Llena’s management or hundreds of residents like Mary Brown, many of whom tell a far different story about life here.
After working for 26 years to build La Vida Llena into a safe, caring community for more than 430 residents, I write this with an aching heart. Like each of our 300 employees, I’m grief-stricken by what this unprecedented virus has taken from us: 17 lives, people like Norm Brown, whom we have done everything in our power to protect. The sorrow is palpable, as it is whenever a resident dies, no matter the cause of death.
That’s the thing about this virus: It doesn’t care about prevention or containment strategies. It kills with impunity, as it has in long-term care facilities nationwide. Statistics released by the Kaiser Family Foundation underscore its impact: “In the 23 states that publicly report death data as of April 23, 2020, there have been over 10,000 reported deaths due to COVID-19 in long-term care facilities … representing 27% of deaths due to COVID-19 in those states. Our data also finds that there have been over 50,000 reported cases, accounting for 11% of coronavirus cases in 29 states.”
The Journal story quoted no experts about the unique nature of nursing homes, where medically fragile seniors live at close quarters. La Vida Llena is unique in another way: Despite our large campus, with residents spread among a nursing home, assisted living, memory care and independent living apartments, we have managed to confine the infection largely to the nursing home. Besides that single area, where 11 residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 are in isolation receiving around-the-clock medical care, 98.6% of the remaining 415 La Vida Llena residents have tested negative for COVID-19.
We wish that number was 100% and that COVID-19 had never reared its vicious head in La Vida Llena’s nursing home. It did so despite our nursing home closing to visitors on March 11, the day the governor ordered nursing homes to close; despite mid-March inspections by the state and the city, each affirming our precautions to prevent COVID-19; despite our following the guidance of federal, state and local agencies and working with Department of Health personnel on site helping care for residents; and despite comprehensive testing of residents and staff, which were performed as soon as tests were available for individuals not showing symptoms of COVID-19.
Over the last seven weeks, we have used every means at our disposal to keep our residents safe and healthy, as we have since La Vida Llena opened in 1983.
We will continue to do so, because at La Vida Llena we treat every life with respect, no matter the threat, no matter the health challenges. We will do so because we believe our residents deserve better, just as they did from this newspaper.
Editor’s note: La Vida Llena denied the Journal’s request to speak with the CEO or executive director, providing the name of a resident instead. The Journal declined that offer. The story did include responses the company sent via email.