long term care covid

Seven people died of COVID-19 in Maricopa County April 30, according to the Department of Health. All were residents of long-term facilities. Seven more died of COVID-19 the next day, with five coming from long-term facilities.

All nine deaths reported in the county May 2 came from long-term facilities. In Maricopa County, 168 people have died from coronavirus; 112 of those (67%) have been residents of long-term care facilities (including skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, rehabilitation facilities and hospice facilities).

At least 110 long-term care facilities have reported COVID-19 cases to the county.

Testing has not been done at most of the other 400 long-term care facilities in Maricopa County.

Despite a testing “blitz” that started last weekend, facilities for the most vulnerable to COVID-19 are not being targeted for testing. “We are in talks with partners that may be able to offer testing to facilities … But we’re not at a point yet where we can offer that level of testing,” said  Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for disease protection of Maricopa County.

She said a scarcity of tests has made the priority to test people experiencing what may be symptoms of COVID-19.

“If we start testing individuals who do not have symptoms, the first places we would look at are long-term facilities.”

At an April 30 webinar discussing the new testing, Sunenshine said the number of people being hospitalized due to COVID-19 peaked a few weeks ago. “Hospitalization levels (due to COVID-19) are stable and in general might even be decreasing,” she said.

But the next day was by far the most-ever number of new patients hospitalized for COVID-19.

In addition to seven new deaths from COVID-19 May 1, 65 people were hospitalized with the disease, according to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. 

This was triple the average for April of around 20 per day. Of the number hospitalized for COVID-19 May 1, 13 came from long-term care homes.

Residents of nursing homes … are at the highest risk for severe complications,” Sunenshine said. “What we’re doing now is making sure a failcity with even one case has testing available to anyone who presents with symptoms.”

The Groves in Goodyear had one resident who tested positive and later died of COVID-19.

Loree Wagner, a spokeswoman for the Groves parent company Merrill Gardens, said May 1 the Groves has not had any other coronavirus cases.

“We’re doing temperature checks on all residents and team members,” she said.

As is the case at other long-term facilities, visitors are not permitted at the Groves.

Meanwhile, AARP as well as the West Valley View and other media companies continue to request the names of long-term facilities with COVID-19 cases. Sunenshine and others have refused to provide the information, stating it would violate privacy laws.

Dana Marie Kennedy, AARP Arizona director, disputed this in a letter to the state last week to Gov. Doug Ducey.

The letter, she said, was to “encourage state health agencies to publically make available the names of long-term care facilities with confirmed COVID19 cases … AARP believes the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) does not preclude a state health agency from releasing such information, because it is not a covered entity as defined by federal law. Additionally, the Arizona government has the authority to identify nursing facilities that have been the site of COVID-19 infections.”

On April 30, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a new independent commission that will conduct a comprehensive assessment of the nursing home response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This followed an April 19 CMS announcement requiring long-term facilities to inform residents, families and representatives of COVID-19 cases in their facilities. 

The blitz test sites include Akos MD in Glendale and Maricopa Banner Health in Peoria. (To schedule a test or for more information, call the COVID-19 hotline, 844-542-8201.) 

On its website (aarp.org), AARP provides a list of “six questions to ask if a loved one is in a nursing home.”

1. Has anyone in the nursing home tested positive for COVID-19? This includes residents as well as staff or vendors who may have been in the nursing home.

2. What is the nursing home doing to prevent infections?

• How are nursing home staff being screened for COVID-19, especially when they leave and reenter the home?

• What precautions are in place for residents who are not in private rooms?

3. Does nursing home staff have the personal protective equipment (PPE)—like masks, face shields, gowns, gloves—that they need to stay safe and keep their patients safe?

• Have nursing home staff been given specific training on how to use this personal protective equipment?

• If no, what is the plan to obtain personal protective equipment?

4. What is the nursing home doing to help residents stay connected with their families or other loved ones during this time?

• Does the nursing home help residents call their loved ones by phone or video call?

• Will the nursing home set up a regular schedule for you to speak with your loved ones?

5. What is the plan for the nursing home to communicate important information to both residents and families on a regular basis?

Will the nursing home be contacting you by phone or email, and when?

6. Is the nursing home currently at full staffing levels for nurses, aides and other workers?

• What is the plan to make sure the needs of nursing home residents are met—like bathing, meals, medication management, social engagement—if the nursing home has staffing shortages?

If you’re concerned about the safety and well-being of a spouse, parent or other loved one who lives in a nursing home, contact your state’s long-term care ombudsman.