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KSL Investigators Win Fight For More Info On COVID-19 In Utah’s Care Centers

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Utah’s long-term care facilities have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, 227 people have died from the virus in nursing homes, making up 42% of all COVID-19 deaths in the state.

While Utah’s fatality rate overall is very low (.57%), the rate in Utah’s nursing homes is high: 13% of all residents who contract the virus die.

Some information about COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes is publicly available on the state’s coronavirus website, including current outbreaks and whether a facility has greater than or fewer than five cases.

What it does not show is historical outbreaks, deaths per facility and specific numbers on how many residents have contracted the coronavirus.

Fight For Transparency

That’s information the KSL Investigators felt was important for Utah families to have, as they make choices about the care for their loved ones.

AARP Utah State Director Alan Ormsby said since the start of the pandemic, they have advocated for transparency on what’s happening in Utah’s nursing homes. Ormsby said information about things like PPE, adequate disinfection and accurate numbers on COVID-19 cases haven’t been entirely forthcoming.

“All of the people who advocate for quality care are really kind being held back from having the full information they need to be able to make good decisions,” he said.

In April, KSL requested additional data from the Utah Department of Health through a public records request, including a complete list of all Utah nursing homes and assisted living facilities with COVID-19-positive residents, exactly how many people in each facility had contracted the virus and how many had died.

The request specified that we only wanted numbers and not information that would identify a resident, such as names or ages.

Our requests were repeatedly denied by UDOH, which cited privacy concerns.

Ultimately, six months later, the State Records Committee granted our appeal and ordered the numbers be released.

The Numbers & What They Mean

UDOH provided a list of all care facilities which have had a recorded case of COVID-19.

That information included: date of outbreak, total COVID-19 cases for staff and patients and total COVID-19 resident deaths. UDOH defines an outbreak as one staff member or resident who tested positive for the virus. The data also shows at what point the outbreak was resolved, meaning no further positive cases.

KSL Investigators analyzed the information to see which facilities experienced the highest number of cases and deaths from COVID-19.

As of Oct. 2, 2020, these are the facilities with the most COVID-19 cases among residents since the pandemic began:

  • Midtown Manor, Salt Lake City — 76
  • Holladay Healthcare Center, Holladay — 66
  • William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home, Salt Lake City — 54
  • Avalon Valley Rehabilitation, Salt Lake City — 54
  • Canyon Rim Care Center, Salt Lake City — 48
  • Heritage Park Healthcare and Rehabilitation, Roy — 48
  • Four Corners Regional Care Center, Blanding — 45
  • Sandy Health and Rehab, Sandy — 43
  • Woodland Park Rehabilitation and Care Center, Salt Lake City — 40
  • Avalon West Health and Rehabilitation, Salt Lake City — 35

The facilities with the highest number of patient deaths from COVID-19:

  • Canyon Rim Care Center, Salt Lake City — 15
  • William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home, Salt Lake City — 15
  • Heritage Park Healthcare and Rehabilitation, Roy — 13
  • The Ridge Foothill, Salt Lake City — 12
  • Highland Cove Retirement Community, Salt Lake City — 11
  • Avalon West Health and Rehabilitation, Salt Lake City — 11
  • Holladay Healthcare Center, Holladay — 9
  • Four Corners Regional Health Care, Blanding — 9
  • Avalon Valley Rehabilitation, Salt Lake City — 6
  • Woodland Park Rehabilitation and Care Center, Salt Lake City — 6
  • Meadow Brook Rehabilitation and Nursing, Salt Lake City — 5

See the complete list of COVID-19 cases released by UDOH here.

KSL Investigators sat down with Dr. Michelle Hofmann, program manager for Healthcare-Associated Infections and Antibiotic Resistance Program with the Utah Department of Health, to talk about what these numbers mean.

“Across the board, we were not prepared for this,” said Hofmann. “There wasn’t an exceptional facility who, out of the gate, was going to be able to manage COVID-19 in their building.”

She said with the state defining an outbreak as at least one person at the facility having COVID-19, “every facility, almost, in the state has had an ‘outbreak.’ That is probably less valuable information just because of the way we know COVID is spread.”

Most care centers had very few patients who contracted the virus, and Hofmann said the ones with larger outbreaks tend to be places where residents are not physically or mentally capable of sticking to COVID-19 health guidelines.

“This is happening in memory care units, dementia care units, facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities,” said Hofmann. “The residents cannot maintain the transmission-based precautions because of the nature of their conditions.”

That’s true for Canyon Rim Care Center, owned by Avalon Health Care. The facility saw some of the highest transmissions and deaths in nursing homes statewide. Canyon Rim has a 43-bed unit for residents with memory illnesses like dementia.

End-of-Life Planning May Contribute To Deaths

KSL Investigators analyzed data to determine which facilities saw the highest rates of death among COVID-positive residents.

Highland Cove Retirement Community had 25 residents contract COVID-19. Eleven of those residents, or 44% of all their COVID-19 patients, died.

But Hofmann said this statistic doesn’t necessarily indicate poor quality of care. It may include tough conversations families are having with loved ones about end-of-life care.

“I do believe that there is this sentiment, especially in our aging population, that they would rather die in place at their facility and pursue a more palliative course of action than be admitted to a hospital,” said Hofmann. “I’ve seen families decide not to move residents and allow their family members to pass peacefully in the place that they have called home. And these facilities are their home.”

What To Know When Researching A Home

The pandemic hasn’t eliminated the need for quality long-term care.

Consumers doing their homework on where to place their loved one have many resources, including inspection and discipline reports through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.

State nursing home inspection data isn’t online, but families can request that history from UDOH’s Bureau of Licensing and Certification.

Currently, exact COVID-19 case counts and historic outbreak data are not available on the coronavirus website. Ormsby said this, among access to other kinds of information, is valuable to those with loved ones living in a long-term care center.

“Long-term care facilities are doing their very, very best in really trying circumstances,” he said. “But the fact remains that if they’re not doing as well as they should be doing, families ought to be able to know what’s going on, so they can make decisions about the care of the person that they love.”

Some questions he suggested consumers ask include:

  • Are there adequate levels of PPE for staff and patients?
  • Are staff complying with infection control measures?
  • Are residents sent offsite when they contract COVID-19?
  • What are testing protocols for residents and staff?

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you

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