AARP: New Mexico nursing homes short on personal protective gear | Coronavirus

Dillon Mullan

About 51.5 percent New Mexico’s nursing homes lack a week’s supply of personal protective equipment as the COVID-19 pandemic rages, according to a recent AARP survey. 

The national average is about 20 percent, though state Aging and Long-Term Services Department Secretary Katrina Hotrum-Lopez said the state has an emergency supply for any nursing home unable to find enough personal protective equipment for staff or residents.

“If facilities are unable to secure PPE through their own means, the state will step in,” Hotrum-Lopez wrote in an email to The New Mexican. “The national surge in cases has no doubt contributed to delays in the supply chain and delivery … which can adversely impact a facility’s supply stockpile. We speak with facilities weekly, and continuously monitor supply and demand of [personal protective equipment] throughout every long-term care facility in the state. Every facility has a safety net … through the state.”

Hotrum-Lopez said the state has received and fulfilled five emergency requests for personal protective equipment from nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the past month.

Using data released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services through Oct. 18, the report also found New Mexico’s nursing homes had 0.15 COVID-19 deaths per 100 nursing home residents and 1.5 cases per 100 nursing home residents, both below the national average.

But in New Mexico, about 29 percent of nursing homes face a shortage of nurses or nursing aides, which is on par with the national average.

In recent weeks, cases in the state — both inside congregate care facilities and among the general population — have ballooned. 

According to the state Department of Health, there have been 2,735 cases of COVID-19 in residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, leading to 451 deaths as of Tuesday. Employees at nursing homes and long-term care facilities have tested positive 2,233 times. Five have died.

In Santa Fe over the past 28 days, cases of COVID-19 have been detected in residents or staff at 11 nursing homes or long-term care facilities — Brookdale Santa Fe, Casa Real Genesis, El Castillo, Kingston Residence, Legacy Santa Fe, Mi Casa Bonita, Morningstar Senior Living, Pacifica Senior Living, Santa Fe Care Center, Sierra Vista Retirement, The Montecito, and Vista Hermosa.

Those facilities have seen 18 deaths, including 10 at Kingston Residence. At the Taos Living Center, where at least 14 residents have died in a recent outbreak, Director Dave Armijo said there has not been a positive test in the past week.

An AARP official said the study points to significant issues.

“Nine months since COVID-19 entered nursing homes, cases are rising again, and facilities still don’t have the PPE needed to protect residents,” AARP New Mexico State Director Joseph Sanchez said. “It is imperative that this shortage be addressed. Our state leaders need to act to keep residents safe and hold nursing homes accountable.”

Hotrum-Lopez wrote the state has been aggressive in dealing with the problem. Calling the protection of nursing home residents a top priority for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Hotrum-Lopez added the state is “doing everything possible to help facilities locate and secure personal protective equipment.”

However, nursing home and long-term care facilities directors across Northern New Mexico say they’ve scrambled to find new vendors to stay stocked with protective equipment.

Armijo said his regular vendor froze his orders at pre-pandemic levels, so he has had to contract with at least 10 different vendors. Edgar Ortiz, director of The Montecito of Santa Fe, said he has had to turn from one vendor to eight.

“We’ve had to do our homework. You have to plan ahead and order supplies you might not get for over a month,” Ortiz said. “In one eight-hour shift, a caregiver might go through five or six pairs of gloves.”

Adam Spriggs, spokesman for Kingston Residence of Santa Fe, said the price of N95 masks has fluctuated between 300 and 400 percent of pre-pandemic averages.

“We’ve jumped through so many hoops contacting suppliers around the world,” Spriggs said. “We’ve used personal contacts, told our home office staff to think if they had any suggestions, asked around on Facebook — pretty much everything we could think of to ensure we’ve had enough PPE.”

Armijo, Ortiz and Spriggs said their facilities have not faced a shortage of less than a week’s supply of personal protective equipment.

Hotrum-Lopez said all of the state’s roughly 71 nursing homes and 250 assisted living facilities conduct weekly surveillance testing of staff and residents, and any positive case triggers a rapid response test, while personal protective equipment is available in case of emergency.

“Each facility is required to secure their own personal protective equipment. The state provides assistance when the long-term care facility alerts us of a shortage,” Hotrum-Lopez wrote in an email. “In most cases, once the facilities have requested personal protective equipment, the state is able to provide the equipment within a couple days.”

Dillon Mullan

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