In most places in the world, if you are living or working in a long-term care facility, you have a greater chance of getting a novel cornavirus infection and dying from COVID-19, the respiratory disease it causes, than if you are living anyplace else.

People who live in a nursing home, assisted living facility or other type of congregate care center are listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19, along with people over 65 and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions.

One-third of those who have died from complications of the illness in the U.S. were living or working in residential care facilities, according to a New York Times database.

The rate in New Mexico is even higher, at more than 43 percent, according to data from the state Department of Health.

Research will tell, but it is likely that those over 65 who are living in their own homes with similar high-risk factors for severe COVID-19 symptoms experienced fewer rates of infection and had a lower chance of dying than the individuals living in long-term care facilities.

Nursing homes rely on health care aides who must come in close contact with some residents to assist them with tasks, such as moving from their beds to wheelchairs and toilets, and to provide other personal care

services.

When the virus hit, many long-term care centers did not have enough protective masks, gloves, disinfectant and other necessary supplies to protect staff and patients.

A majority of health aides earn low wages and have not received extensive infection-control training.

The New Mexico Department of Health mandated novel coronavirus testing in late April for staff and residents of all of the state’s

71 congregate care centers.

According to state Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel, test results showed some staff members at such facilities were asymptomatic and still tested positive for the virus.

As of Friday, 471 patients and 351 staff members at

40 long-term care facilities had tested positive for the virus in New Mexico, according to the state Department of Health. More than 150 people had died, include three health care workers.

At a minimum, federal law states that a nursing home must protect and promote the rights of each resident.

Residents have the right to be informed about their medical condition and medications, and to see their own doctor, and the right to an environment more like a home that maximizes comfort and provides assistance to be as independent as possible.

Nevertheless, many nursing home and assisted living center residents were not told what was going on when the virus hit their facility.

As these disparities emerge, we may discover that discriminatory practices prevented some residents from receiving appropriate care and protections against the health threat.

One deadly outbreak in New Mexico occurred at La Vida Llena, a retirement community in Albuquerque, where

44 residents and 29 staff members have tested positive for the virus and 18 residents have died.

Art Schrieber, 92, a resident of La Vida Llena, was tested for the virus, but he said no one at the facility gave him his results.

“It irritates the hell out of me that I wasn’t told my test results,” he said.

Instead, Schreiber, who is blind, received the information after I read the test results to him.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing homes are seeking immunity from potential legal actions over outbreaks and deaths.

According to a recent article in Time, more than 18 states granted legal protections to nursing homes, assisted living centers and other facilities.

It may be time for state legislatures to instead provide better community support for elderly people and others with medical needs to stay in their own homes.

Especially needed is quality home health care that allows seniors to age in place, where they want to be.

According to a recent AARP survey,

77 percent of Americans over 50 said they would like to live in their community as long as possible.

Andy Winnegar has spent his career in rehabilitation and is based in Santa Fe as a training associate for the Southwest ADA Center. He can be reached at a@winnegar.com.

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