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Sun Investigation

Coronavirus-related deaths among Colorado nursing home, senior-care center residents rise to at least 64

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is still not releasing the fatality data, citing jurisdiction and privacy issues

The Centennial Healthcare Center in Greeley, where at least 17 residents' deaths have been tied to the new coronavirus. (Joe St. George, Fox31)
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The number of residents of Colorado nursing homes and senior care centers who have died because of the coronavirus rose to at least 64 on Wednesday, up from 32 last week, according to a count by The Colorado Sun. 

COVID-19 IN COLORADO

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The state health department is not releasing the data — despite media requests and Gov. Jared Polis’ remarks to The Sun last Friday that the state would try to dispense the information “quicker in the future.” 

The Sun is tracking the deaths independently by asking county health officials and nursing homes to voluntarily share their data. Some have agreed to do so while others have not.

Deaths of some of the state’s most vulnerable residents in long-term care facilities now account for one-third of all fatalities attributed to the coronavirus in Colorado, where 193 people have died because of the disease through Wednesday. 

Among them are clusters of deaths at several senior-care centers, including at least 14 residents of Centennial Healthcare Center in Greeley. There have been three more deaths at the facility, “but we do not have confirmation yet that those individuals were positive for COVID-19,” said Annaliese Impink, a senior vice president of SavaSeniorCare, which operates Centennial Healthcare Center.

Other clusters include five deaths — one unconfirmed but suspected — at Libby Bortz Assisted Living in Littleton, and four each at three centers located in Denver and El Paso counties. 

Emergency personnel from South Metro Fire Rescue transfer a patient into an ambulance at Libby Bortz Assisted Living Center in Littleton on Friday, April 3, 2020. South Metro ambulance crews now wear personal protective equipment to every call as a precaution against the coronavirus, a spokeswoman said. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

“This is an unprecedented time that we are dealing with right now,” said Jay Moskowitz, CEO of Vivage Senior Living, a Colorado company that operates 30 senior-care homes in the state. 

Among Vivage’s properties are Amberwood Court Rehabilitation and Denver North Care Center, where residents have died because of coronavirus. It also owns Fairacres Manor in Greeley, which the state says has an outbreak of the disease. 

Moskowitz said the virus “has been really devastating to seniors.” His company is partnering with Denver Health to get rapid testing of its residents and staff, which has been a struggle, he said. Vivage facilities had been waiting three or four days to get test results from the state lab, but now will get answers within about one day, he said. 

“We have been begging and praying for that,” Moskowitz said. 

Residents at Vivage centers are isolated in their rooms and using iPads to FaceTime with loved ones, who are not allowed to visit unless there are extreme circumstances. Group activities have been canceled, and residents who have to leave their rooms — to smoke or get dialysis, for example — are wearing full personal protective equipment, including masks and gowns, Moskowitz said. 

The company is hyperfocused on protecting its staff so they do not get sick or infect their families, Moskowitz said.

Dr. Mark Wallace, director of Weld County Public Health and Environment, says there is some good news to report: infections at the three senior care facilities where coronavirus outbreaks have been reported in his county appear to be slowing. 

“We don’t appear to be having new cases,” he said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we can keep that moving forward.”

Joseph Huskinson, director of operations for Stellar Senior Living, reported a similar trend. He oversees Winslow Court in Colorado Springs, where two residents’ deaths have been linked to the coronavirus. 

“What we’re quickly finding is that the number of people that are showing signs of symptoms are greatly decreasing day by day,” he said. “We’re very optimistic and very positive about the direction by which it’s going.”

Huskinson also said the majority of residents who test positive are able to overcome the coronavirus. 

Here is the breakdown on number of patient deaths related to coronavirus by facility: 

  • Centennial Health Care Center in Greeley: 14
  • Jewell Care Center in Denver: 4  
  • Sunrise Cherry Creek in Denver: 4 
  • Highline Rehabilitation in Denver: 2
  • Amberwood Court Rehab in Denver: 2 
  • Denver North Center: 1
  • Franklin Park Health Center in Denver: 1
  • Marian Plaza in Denver: 1
  • Windsor Garden in Denver: 1
  • Laurel Manor in Colorado Springs: 6 
  • MorningStar at Mountain Shadows in Colorado Springs: 4 
  • Winslow Court in Colorado Springs: 2
  • Columbine Manor Care Center in Salida: 1
  • San Juan Care Center in Montrose: 3
  • North Shore Health and Rehab Facility in Loveland: 3
  • Libby Bortz Assisted Living in Littleton: 5
  • Inglenook, Brighton: 2
  • RiverPointe Senior Living, Littleton: 1
  • Abundant Blessings, Centennial: 1
  • Jefferson County: 6 at centers not named by the health department

MORE: Many Colorado nursing homes were already struggling to control infections. Then came coronavirus.

Tri-County Health Department — which includes Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties — did not respond to a request for updated data on Wednesday, saying staff were too busy dealing with the pandemic to tally the numbers. As of four days ago, the county had at least nine deaths of residents in senior-living facilities attributed to COVID-19, the infectious respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus. 

Six patients of nursing homes and senior care centers in Jefferson County have died from the coronavirus, county spokeswoman Nicole Work said. Twenty-two total residents have tested positive, in addition to four staffers at facilities.

Jefferson County did not provide information specific to facilities, saying doing so would violate patient privacy. 

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says there have been outbreaks of coronavirus at nearly 50 long-term care facilities in the state. 

At Libby Bortz Assisted Living in Littleton, where four residents have been confirmed victims of coronavirus and a fifth is considered a COVID-19 death by state health officials even though the resident was not tested, staff are trying to reduce residents’ anxiety and isolation with coloring sheets, puzzles and audio books, said Kim DeCero, a spokeswoman for South Metro Housing, which runs the center. 

Staff are taking residents’ temperatures twice per day, as well as disinfecting rooms and delivering meals and snacks to residents’ rooms, she said. Relatives and staff celebrated the birthday of one resident by holding up signs and singing from the nursing home parking lot, DeCero said. 

Four other residents and one staff member have tested positive for the virus, not including those who died. 

Denver resident Christi Romero-Roseth and her mother, Lynn Roseth, who lives at RiverPointe Senior Living in Littleton, are frustrated by what they see as a lack of transparency. The women learned that a RiverPointe resident had died because of coronavirus only by reading it in The Colorado Sun on Saturday. 

The center has updated residents about the virus by slipping notes under apartment doors, but Roseth did not receive a note about the death.

“We are not sure what we would do in their shoes,” Romero-Roseth said. “We both err on the side of too much information. If the information is there, those people who may have alternatives could consider them. My mother could come stay with us.”

Roseth, 76, lives in her own apartment and has her groceries delivered. But she uses a communal hallway, elevator and laundry room at RiverPointe. Only two people are allowed in an elevator at a time. Visitors to the building are restricted and must wear masks; residents wear masks when they leave their apartments, Roseth said.

“I don’t feel that anybody in a communal living situation is safe,” Romero-Roseth said. “If you are forced to be in an enclosed space with folks for days, weeks, months on end? I don’t put it on RiverPointe. They are doing their absolute best.”

Roseth said many of her neighbors feel lonely and isolated, but that her “biggest problem with the whole situation is a lack of information.” She said she previously asked the manager of the complex whether he would inform residents about confirmed cases and was told no. 

“Not knowing means I don’t have an opportunity to access my situation and make a change,” she said.

RiverPointe did not respond to a request for comment. 

MORE: Three coronavirus models have very different takes on how Colorado’s outbreak will develop

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on March 28 began releasing a list of senior living centers with outbreaks following an open records request, but it will not say how many cases or deaths have occurred at each center. 

A department spokeswoman said the state is not releasing the information because local public health agencies are the lead investigators on cases in their counties and information “should be  shared in a way that protects the patient’s medical privacy and personal security by not disclosing things, like personal information, address or quarantine location.”

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