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Elderly patients with COVID-19 allowed to return to nursing homes with guidelines

Posted at 9:58 PM, May 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-27 01:28:55-04

More than 75 percent of Arizona's COVID-19 deaths are elderly patients over the age of 65 and many of them contracted the deadly virus inside a long-term care facility.

ABC15 has reported on the ambulances rushing residents to the ICU and the grandparents who tragically never made it out.

But what happens to those patients with mild symptoms? In many cases they are quickly discharged from the hospital and placed right back into a skilled nursing facility.

"The discharge planner will come in and say, 'These are the facilities that we’ve contacted, and they’re able to take a COVID-positive patient' and they'll say pick one," said Dave Voepel, CEO of the Arizona Health Care Association.

One of places accepting infected individuals is Desert Blossom in Mesa. A facility administrator told ABC15, "...our facility is affirmatively accepting and admitting COVID-19 positive patients from the hospitals in the area."

"It’s not re-infecting the rest of the building, because it is shifted off into a wing," said Voepel.

Voepel's organization represents roughly 200 assisted living and skilled nursing facilities that care for more than 18,000 Arizona residents.

He says federal and state government have offered clear guidance ensuring patients can return to their homes without exposing other at risk residents.

"So what we’re doing is making it more efficient and effective to take care of people," he said.

"Both CMS, the CDC and AzDHS require that all facilities have a plan in place for this (as well as admission to a more acute level of care and readmission) and to follow all transmission control procedures," said Heather Macre, a healthcare attorney for Fennemore Craig. "Facilities have also been advised to cohort residents based on COVID-19 status, to have those cohorts staffed by different teams, and to implement a quarantine of readmitted residents in a private room if possible."

Not everyone is on board. "I’m deathly afraid of that. I don’t think it’s a good idea," said Christine Burke, who pulled her mom out of Pennington Gardens in April.

Burke recently admitted her mom to a different facility - one with zero COVID-19 cases. "They told me they’re not accepting patients," said Burke.

But she wonders why COVID-positive residents are not cared for at the hospital until they are no longer contagious.

"[Hospitals have] better trained staff, better facilities, better decontamination to hold them," she said. "I would prefer they stay in a place where they are used dealing with it."

In Desert Blossom's case, management tells ABC15 they have nurses and physicians delivering constant care, and 91% of their residents that contracted COVID have survived.

Just like if a current resident is infected, facilities are required to notify all the families if they re-admit a COVID-positive patient.

It is unclear just how many of these facilities are taking in patients, but Voepel says the only ones allowed are the ones capable of proper care.