No deficiencies found at Chandler facility with 16 virus deaths SanTan Sun News

No deficiencies found at Chandler facility with 16 virus deaths

July 21st, 2020 STSN Staff
No deficiencies found at Chandler facility with 16 virus deaths
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By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

State regulators found no operational deficiencies at a Chandler assisted-living home where numerous residents contracted COVID-19 and 16 died from the virus.

Pennington Gardens, near Pecos and Dobson roads, reported counted 16 virus-related fatalities and more than 30 confirmed cases of COVID-19 back in April, making it one of the deadliest hotspots in the state for the disease at that time among Arizona’s many assisted-living communities.

Federal data shows at least three other Medicare-funded nursing homes in Arizona recorded more than 16 resident deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March. More than 250 of Arizona’s nursing homes residents have so far died from the virus.

While the federal government has begun citing some Arizona nursing homes for infection-control violations during the pandemic, state regulators found no major deficiencies that might explain why Pennington had a high rate of infection.   

Pennington’s managers claim its facility has been free of COVID-19 since May, thanks to new protocols that include requiring staff to wear face masks, social distancing and screening residents each day for COVID-19 symptoms.

“We continue to keep the safety of our residents and team members our absolute priority,” said Amira Fahoum, a spokesperson for Pennington. “We are in regular communication with our residents, their families, and our team members to provide them with clear information and updates to any protocol or procedural changes.”

On May 20, the Arizona Department of Health Service conducted an onsite investigation at Pennington after receiving some complaints about the facility. Public records show inspectors found no evidence to substantiate the allegations.

Chris Minnick, a spokesman for the state Health Services Department, said the agency is not able to disclose the details of unsubstantiated complaints. Only allegations that are supported by deficiencies found at a facility can be made public, he said.

On June 10, the Health Department cited Pennington for leaving out information in its rulebook for how it was combating COVID-19.

According to the agency’s records, inspectors noted Pennington did not mention in its policy protocol whether staff was regularly disinfecting chairs, tables or light switches.

Pennington’s protocol provided a cleaning checklist that staff was expected to complete multiple times throughout the workday.

Though the checklist mentioned sanitizing handrails and doorknobs, health inspectors faulted Pennington for leaving out other surfaces that can be carriers for the virus.

“The deficient practice posed a risk as policies and procedures reinforce and clarify standards expected of employees,” records state.

A Pennington employee later informed inspectors that the facility’s staff had been cleaning these surfaces and promised to update Pennington’s rulebook. The Health Department said this citation was corrected on June 23.

Pennington did not immediately respond to inquiries asking whether it has had more cases of COVID-19 over the last couple months.

The state will not disclose the identities of homes and assisted-living facilities that have had outbreaks of the virus due to privacy concerns, allowing the facilities to decide how much information will be made public.

Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury ruled in favor of the state earlier this summer by concluding state law allowed for this information to remain confidential.

“Although difficult in the face of this devilish virus, fidelity to the Constitution and the laws of the state of Arizona must prevail,” Coury ruled.

The federal government has taken a different stance than Arizona, choosing to publicly disclose which Medicare-certified nursing homes have had confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Because some facilities are regulated by Medicare, the federal government has authority to release information about these facilities that the state may wish not to reveal.

Chandler is home to at least five Medicare-certified nursing homes and one was recently cited for not following the government’s infection-control guidelines.

Desert Cove, near Frye and Dobson roads, has had at least nine residents die from COVID-19 and six staff members contract the virus, according to federal data. Some of the state’s other Medicare-certified homes have had up to 30 residents succumb to the coronavirus.

On May 13, health inspectors cited Desert Cove after they observed an employee failing to inform visitors they needed to wash or sanitize their hands before walking through the facility.

The employee screened the visitors for symptoms of the virus, inspectors noted, but did not offer them any hygiene products before allowing them to move freely about the building. Desert Cove reported correcting this error by June 10.

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