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New Mexico: Nursing home reviews ongoing amid pandemic

May 18, 2020 GMT

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office said Monday it’s considering a request by a state lawmaker to look into an Albuquerque rehabilitation center as part of the agency’s ongoing review of health and safety concerns at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

The office received a request Friday from state Rep. Gregg Schmedes to investigate the eviction of senior residents with disabilities at Canyon Transitional Rehabilitation Center to make room for coronavirus patients. The Tijeras Republican called the forced move unconscionable and indefensible.

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“Evicting these senior citizens from their long-term care facility is another example of the state of New Mexico inappropriately rationing health care,” he wrote in a letter to Democrat Attorney General Hector Balderas.

He noted that coronavirus relief measures adopted by Congress prohibit the eviction of anyone who cannot pay rent during the pandemic, but the patients at Canyon were “evicted simply to free up space for a more lucrative tenant.”

All 54 patients at the rehab center were forced out in April as part of an agreement with state health officials to take in coronavirus patients as soon as possible.

Albuquerque television station KRQE reported that under the agreement, Canyon would receive $600 a day for each COVID-19 patient admitted and $600 a day for each empty bed, up to 30 empty beds.

Before the agreement, KRQE reported the long-term care facility was receiving about $280 a day to care for a 102-year-old patient, for example.

“It’s devastating. I feel there is just a total lack of consideration for the families and for the residents at Canyon,” said Jennifer Shoman, whose 84-year-old mother was forced to leave the facility. “I feel like my mom was treated like revenue, disposable, and that her needs and health and well-being were not taken into consideration.”

State health officials have defended the move, saying they needed a place to put COVID-19 patients who were recovering, saying having a designated facility would keep more people safe.

Genesis HealthCare, which runs the rehab center, has said it moved quickly to accommodate the state’s needs. The company acknowledged that the transition was difficult for the Canyon patients and their families, but the move “was the best way to save the most lives in Albuquerque.”

State Aging and Long Term Services Secretary Katrina Hotrum-Lopez said there are things that the state must do better if it has do something like this again.

“I don’t think we owe them an apology as much as we owe them gratitude to make this sacrifice in this time,” she said about the patients who were moved and their families. “Those are the tough decisions that we were making and still continue to have to make.”

Officials say New Mexico has nearly 6,100 COVID-19 cases, with more than half located in McKinley and San Juan counties. Despite the counties’ lower populations and more rural nature, they’ve been leading the state in infections.

The list of congregate living and acute care facilities with at least one positive case or more also has grown to about three dozen, with one-third of those located in the Gallup and Farmington areas.

Most people with the virus experience fever and cough. Older adults and people with existing health problems can face severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

New Mexico has reported 270 deaths, and more than 200 people are hospitalized.

The attorney general’s office has received resident and staff complaints about various nursing homes around the state, but officials said the review also is based on data that shows facilities such as nursing homes can be at greater risk.

“At this time, we are highly focused on a handful of facilities that are showing the highest risks across the state, but we are also working with public health officials to monitor compliance concerns at all facilities in New Mexico,” said Matt Baca, a spokesman for the office.