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Caregivers working at multiple long-term care facilities may contribute to spread of COVID-19

Elderly care
Posted at 10:57 PM, Apr 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-28 20:14:43-04

Arizonans 65 and older make up just 25% of the state's COVID-19 cases, but they account for 75% of the deaths.

A big reason for the spread among the state's elderly, has been the ability for the virus to infiltrate long-term care facilities.

Bill O'Brien and Beverly Schwartz were close friends and neighbors inside Westchester Senior Living's Tivoli Memory Care Unit in Tempe.

"On occasion, they would see them holding hands," said Debi, Schwartz' daughter.

Both Beverly and Bill were hospitalized in mid-April after contracting COVID-19 in the locked-down facility.

"He is still on the ventilator and every day is a scary day," said Shannon Parys, Bill's daughter.

Shannon told ABC15 back on April 14 that she was worried the virus would spread in the facility. It did. But Shannon says she has not heard from the facility's managers since she had to call the ambulance to take her Dad to the emergency room.

"What's really frustrating... I've had no communication from anyone at Westchester," she said.

Parys says she has heard through old friends about more cases.

"There's been several employees that have tested positive," said Parys.

Westchester's parent company, Volunteers of America, said in a statement: "...we are notifying designated family members/caretakers as required by the state...We have been notified that a number of residents and employees at Westchester Senior Living have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. Our hearts go out to them and their families during this difficult time. The health and safety of our residents, employees and community is our top priority..."

Parys and others who work or have loved ones at the facility say they have not gotten any updates about community spread at the facility.

"No one is transparent. We're not getting any communication," she said.

Parys has since reached out to the Arizona Department of Health Services, the governor's office, and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), asking them to look into the facility and their level of care.

Arizona facilities are required to notify families of any COVID-19 cases. Pennington Gardens in Chandler had 16 COVID-19 related deaths as of last week.

To their credit, the facility had been proactively emailing all of their families daily, detailed updates on the number of cases, deaths and steps they were taking to combat the spread.

"I don't think across-the-board [notification] is consistent," said Dave Voepel, CEO of the Arizona Healthcare Association.

Voepel says in the next week, new federal rules will dictate how facilities notify loved ones.

"One of the things that I've heard repeatedly is this idea or concept of different caregivers working at multiple facilities at the same time. How common is that?" asked ABC15's Zach Crenshaw.

"It's very common," said Voepel. "It's very widely known. It's done quite a bit."

"They are bringing in registry caregivers that are floating all over the Valley at many different assisted-living places, so that's not good either," said Parys.

"Maricopa County does a very good job at instructing the folks in a facility, 'Lock your staff down,'" said Voepel. "Don't let them go out to other buildings in that type of thing, but they can only do so much because you need staff."

It is unclear how Bill and Beverly contracted the virus.

"It should've been prevented. They were in isolation," said Parys.

Last Sunday, Bill turned 75.

"We did get to put the phone up and wish him a happy birthday," said his daughter.

A day later, Bill got an antibody plasma transfusion, which Shannon said, "helped him turn a corner."

Beverly though, never recovered. On Thursday, she passed away in a Tempe ICU.

"She spent her adult life in early childhood development," said her daughter, fighting back tears. "She was a preschool teacher, daycare worker. Every time she saw a child, she'd stop and wave."

Beverly's 85th birthday would have been on May 4. Instead of celebrating their matriarch with balloons and cake, her family will lay flowers at her grave.

If you have a loved one inside a long-term care facility and have a story to tell, you can contact Zach Crenshaw at zach.crenshaw@abc15.com.