By Annie Sciacca | Evan Webeck | and Thomas Peele | Bay Area News Group | Updated: April 2, 2020 at 7:00 a.m.
As possible cases mount, families are urged to bring their loved ones home
The voicemail messages sent widely to family members from Canyon Springs Post-Acute Care facility in San Jose started last week with a simple update about its coronavirus-related precautions.
“We are strictly following state and local guidelines to shelter in place,” the first voicemail message from administrator Benton Collins said. “Please do not come in to drop off items,” he added — staff would do laundry, provide extra clothing and tend to residents’ needs.
But over the course of the week, the voicemails grew more alarming. Two residents had tested positive for COVID-19 multiple voicemail messages confirmed — one patient had been discharged before the test results came back and the other had been hospitalized. By Monday, a staff member at the facility also tested positive and Collins was urging families to bring residents out of the facility and to quarantine at home.
“With these new developments in mind, we are strongly urging residents who can be discharged be discharged to home or to loved ones,” Collins’ voicemail message said, adding that they should be quarantined at home for 14 days after discharge. “We are encouraging this as a precautionary measure to help ensure patient safety.”
That has raised some concern among family members — some who aren’t equipped to bring home a loved one who needs full-time care.
“We don’t know what to do,” said one woman whose grandparent is a resident in the facility and needs full-time care, and who spoke to this news organization on condition of anonymity. Her own parents are in their 70s, she said, so they’re among those who experts say are at high risk for being vulnerable to COVID-19. Do they risk exposure by bringing their family member back from Canyon Springs, where the cases have already been confirmed? They would rather not take that chance.
Collins on Wednesday confirmed to the Bay Area News Group that two residents and a staff member from the facility had contracted the virus. Another three residents who were “identified with minor respiratory symptoms” have been tested and are awaiting results, Collins said.
He said the center has stopped accepting new patients and has isolated those at its facility.
“We are working very diligently make sure all potential cases are identified and are treated appropriately,” Collins said.
Canyon Springs is located across the street from Regional Medical Center and abuts duplexes and multifamily homes. The facility treats patients who need special care immediately after leaving the hospital, as well as long-term care for those with dementia, Alzheimer’s or related problems. It has on average 160 patients on-site at any given time.
Those who aren’t showing symptoms have been isolated and are being monitored by staff every four hours, Collins explained.
“All our staff are given the proper protective equipment to make sure they maintain their safety as well as the safety of the residents,” Collins said, who noted that Canyon Springs is working with officials from the state health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to acquire personal protective equipment and receive guidance.
But some are still worried. The granddaughter said a representative from the county health department told her that health experts there do not recommend releasing residents except on a temporary basis for deep cleaning, yet Canyon Springs representatives were urging her family to keep her grandparent home permanently.
As someone who works in healthcare, she understands the challenges on all facilities right now — protective equipment is in high demand, and employees are working hard. But she worries that the facility isn’t being fully transparent or communicative. Most of her calls to the facility have gone unreturned, and she found a Facebook post from another resident’s family member who indicated the facility was in need of masks and other personal protective equipment.
Santa Clara County health officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the situation at Canyon Springs. But an advocacy group said families were left with no easy answers.
“It’s a harrowing decision: to leave a loved one in a facility where a lethal virus is spreading rapidly, or take them home where their care needs may not be met?” said Mike Dark, a staff attorney with California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. “There is a world of trouble once a virus gets into the facility.
“We’re getting calls like this: ‘My mom needs dialysis. My mom needs insulin. I’m in a wheelchair at home — Is it wrong for me to leave her there?’” Dark said, noting that it’s impossible to socially distance from someone who needs full-time care.
Plus, he added, if families take their loved ones home, “Will they be able to get them back in, in a month or so?”
There are at least eight other assisted-living facilities in neighboring San Mateo County receiving the same assistance from state and federal agencies, the county’s health chief said Tuesday. At one nursing home in Pacifica, five residents had tested positive and one had died.
A representative for the Santa Clara County health department did not know the number of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in the county that had reported positive tests. Canyon Springs appears to be the first nursing home in America’s 10th-most populous city at which a coronavirus case has been publicly reported.
Seniors and those with underlying medical conditions, like many of those receiving care and treatment at Canyon Springs, face the highest mortality rate from COVID-19. People older than 60 account for 75 percent of the 30 deaths in Santa Clara County.
It was at a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, that the first outbreak in the U.S. exploded. Eighty of its 120 residents tested positive and more than 30 died from the virus. East of Los Angeles, an outbreak at Cedar Mountain Post Acute Rehabilitation in Yucaipa has infected more than 50 residents and killed two.
The worldwide death toll stood at 45,000 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The majority of whom were over the age of 65 or had underlying health conditions, the two populations nursing and assisted-living facilities primarily serve.