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State leaves it up to families to decide whether to remove loved ones from long-term care facilities

It may not be safer to remove a loved one from a nursing home or senior care center during the COVID-19 pandemic

DENVER — Colorado's COVID-19 deaths have been concentrated in nursing homes, and that's leading families to wonder if their loved ones would be safer at home and if there's any way to do that.

"That's a personal decision. You can only make that for yourself and your family," said Daphne Jean, one of the owners of Oasis Senior Advisors. "As long as the individual doesn't need any support in their home and they are able to stay in their home without anyone coming in and out, maybe they are safer at home."

Jean has been getting a lot of questions like this recently. 

The state leaves the decision to remove someone from a nursing home or rehab facility in the middle of the pandemic to individual families.

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"What needs to be considered is their underlying healthcare needs. Can that healthcare need be met in a different setting?" said Doug Farmer, president and CEO of the Colorado Health Care Association. "At this point in time, taking someone from a healthcare environment where we at least know the status of the majority of the people that live there and moving them to another space where the COVID status of the people who live there is uncertain is a risky proposition."

There are several factors families must consider before removing a loved one from a long-term care facility, including whether they can take care of themselves at home or if there is enough support at home to provide care. 

"It is not something that is recommended. Generally speaking, transferring someone from a long-term care setting to another can have really traumatic effects on the physical and emotional well being," Farmer said. "In a home setting, there’s no guarantee that people will be there to be able to help them safely transfer say from bed to restroom or make sure that they can eat if they have special circumstances around consumption of food."

Jim Wilson knows the pain of losing someone to COVID-19 all too well. 

He says his mother Joyce was staying at the Orchard Park health care center in Greenwood Village. She was getting rehab there after a fall, until Wilson said the facility told him she had completed the program and could go home.

Just one day after she was allowed to leave, Wilson says his mother was admitted to the hospital. He says the hospital told him multiple times she tested positive for COVID-19.

"We wanted to ensure that she could exist in the environment that they were releasing her to and after an hour they assured me that was the case," Wilson said. "She died seven days after being admitted to the hospital."

When we talked to Wilson Tuesday, he said he didn't know if the outcome of his mother's battle would have been any different if she had stayed inside the health care center.

As of Tuesday, Orchard Park facility had not reported any cases of COVID-19 to the state and did not respond to a request for comment from 9NEWS.

Wednesday, however, the family of another resident notified 9NEWS that they were told about dozens of cases of the virus in the facility. The Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) confirmed that 32 residents and 20 staff members have tested positive at Orchard Park, and two residents have died.

CDPHE said it learned of the outbreak on April 14. The information wasn't made available to the public until Wednesday, as the state said it releases information on outbreaks once a week.

It's unclear when families were first notified.

There are at least 254 reported deaths and 1,686 cases of COVID at "outbreak sites" in Colorado, which include places like nursing homes and the JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley.

Regarding care facilities, Wilson said, "If their loved one is in a nursing home, they need to know their physical and emotional state and their COVID state."

Clear Choice Health Care, which operates Orchard Park Health Care Center, responded to 9NEWS with a statement a day after this story was published. You can read the full statement below: 

First, we want to applaud the everyday heroes at Orchard Park and the other area nursing homes for stepping up and, through selfless sacrifice, are providing excellent care to our most vulnerable Americans, also known as the Greatest Generation. While hospital and emergency personnel are often justifiably in the spotlight for their services, it is equally important during this pandemic, which is having a significant effect on our nation’s older population, to recognize and appreciate the amazing efforts of the nurses, CNAs and other caregivers in our elderly care facilities.

Like many other nursing homes in the country, Orchard Park has been impacted by COVID19. The facility began implementing aggressive infection control measures well over a month ago, and was the first nursing home in the State of Colorado to limit access to the facility by anyone other than staff, residents and critical third parties. All staff are screened at the beginning of each shift and residents are continuously monitored for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. Because there is nothing more important to us than the safety and welfare of our patients and staff, Orchard Park also acquired and is using a very expensive state of the art UV cleaning system that disinfects against numerous bacteria and viruses including the COVID-19 virus. The facility will soon be receiving multiple highly sought after HealthySole UV lights which sanitize the soles of all staff members’ shoes upon entering and exiting the facility. Orchard Park has also been able to acquire and has been using all appropriate Personal Protective Equipment including N95 masks, disposable gloves, gowns and protective face masks. However, the gowns are becoming increasingly difficult to secure, so if any of your readers have access to sources with additional gowns, we would really appreciate it if they could let us know.

We are and have been working closely with the facility’s Medical Director, Infectious Disease Doctor and communicating regularly with the Department of Health and State Epidemiologist. Despite these ongoing efforts, Orchard Park has had both residents and employees test positive over the last 9 days. Orchard Park has worked collaboratively with the State and has timely reported all results as they have become available in accordance with the CDC and State Health Department guidelines. We admit patients and have employees who have been in other health care facilities including other skilled nursing homes and area hospitals. Patients are not tested when leaving these other health care sites, unless they present with signs and symptoms. We have a rigorous screening process ruling out admission by anyone with signs and symptoms, but unfortunately, given the unique reality of this virus, people can carry it without showing any symptoms.

In an effort to provide treatment to patients BEFORE the virus has had an irreversible effect, Orchard Park has taken a very aggressive, and in Colorado, unprecedented approach with testing for COVID-19. As recent data is showing, there is a large majority of asymptomatic people who test positive and never show any signs or symptoms of being sick. Through its management company, Orchard Park has been able to acquire numerous testing kits not available locally, and has been testing its residents, resulting in the identification of positive COVID-19 findings. Orchard Park believes this information is allowing it to provide excellent care to its existing residents and to protect residents who have not tested positive. We realize that this aggressive approach may result in higher numbers by comparison; our residents and employees are part of our family, and we felt that their safety was far more important than having to report some higher statistics.

We are committed to caring for and protecting our patients and staff during this difficult time. We communicate regularly with all of our families and very much appreciate the support they have provided to our staff as we work tirelessly to care for their loved ones.

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