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AARP Arizona Director: State Has 'Done Nothing' To Address Nursing Home Concerns

Published: Thursday, June 4, 2020 - 11:30am
Updated: Monday, February 22, 2021 - 1:26pm

Nearly 1,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Arizona. Many of those deaths occurred in long-term care facilities. While some families might soon learn the names of facilities with confirmed COVID-19 cases, many more will not. 

Dana Marie Kennedy, state director of AARP Arizona, says families and aging advocates lack a clear path forward.

"They haven't even communicated with the people who are actually providing the care on an ongoing basis," she said. "Many states have put together a task force or are doing weekly calls with the aging community. They have done nothing to make sure that we are all on the same page that they're addressing our concerns."

Another concern, says Kennedy, are nursing home inspections. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid-regulated nursing homes are required to get an annual inspection, and it’s usually done by the state health department. But assisted living facilities do not fall under that category and it's often up to families, who are the eyes and ears of these places, to report concerns to the state, triggering an inspection.

Arizona Coronavirus Cases, Deaths

"You know, in skilled nursing facilities, they need a lot of assistance," said Kennedy. "They often need help with some to go to the bathroom, they need help eating. They need help, you know, brushing their teeth, and Who is doing that? And are they being properly cared for?"

As an example, Kennedy point to newly released data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, which found that more that 372 long-term care workers in Arizona contracted the coronavirus. 

"I'm not trying to sound the alarm bells. But if you're taking 300 workers off the frontlines when we already had a shortage who is doing the job? And what is the state doing to make sure that they're inspecting these facilities and what's going on? And then after they inspect, are they communicating their findings to the community and to the family members?""

Nationwide, more than 26,000 residents in long-term care have died from COVID-19. In Arizona, 227 residents were diagnosed with COVID-19 and 88 died. 

Those figures only includes Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing homes. In Arizona, there are more than 2,000 assisted living facilities that do not fall under that category. It is unclear how many residents and staff have been sickened with the virus in those communities.

KJZZ asked both the Governor's Office and Arizona Department of Health Services what, if any, plans are being put in place to allow families back into facilities and when. They have yet to reply.

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