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More than half of patients test positive for COVID-19 at local nursing home
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SIERRA VISTA— A local nursing home is reporting that a little more than half their patients have tested positive for COVID-19 and nine members of their staff are in quarantine with the virus.

Many nursing homes all over the country are in a similar predicament to Life Care Center of Sierra Vista. According to an article in the New York Times last month, the virus has infected more than 581,000 people at about 23,000 long-term care facilities, which include nursing homes, assisted living facilities, memory care centers, retirement communities and other care facilities for older adults.

In another New York Times article Thursday, an independent panel that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted to recommend that the first coronavirus vaccines administered in the United States should be given to “residents and employees of nursing homes and similar facilities ... “

As of Wednesday, 44 residents at Life Care Sierra Vista had tested positive for the virus. There are about 75 residents at the facility on Wilcox Drive.

Two residents are in the hospital, Executive Director Corrie Killingsworth said, and two have died from the virus.

“We mourn the residents we have lost to this virus,” Killingsworth said. “They were members of our facility family, and each one of them was a treasured individual.”

In an email, Killingsworth said COVID-19 positive residents are in a separate unit being cared for by staff until they meet CDC guidelines for recovery.

Employees and residents also are being tested, Killingsworth said, and residents are being monitored several times a day to determine if they have any symptoms of the virus.

“We are testing all residents and associates in accordance with the guidance we have received from the CDC and CMS (Community Medical Services), as well as both state and local health departments,” Killingsworth said. “In addition to the testing, our residents are monitored multiple times a day for any symptoms or concerns. Every associate is also screened when they arrive for work and when they leave, including checking temperature and monitoring for any symptoms or concerns.

“Our staff have been attentive and dedicated caregivers and are doing everything they can to protect and serve our residents during this global pandemic. By practicing proper infection control measures and closely following federal, state and local guidelines, we will get through this together.

“It is our goal to resolve this outbreak as soon as possible and again offer a truly homelike environment for our residents and staff. They have all been champions.”

At Haven of Sierra Vista, Executive Director Emerson Gooding said none of the 72 residents or 88 staff members were afflicted with the coronavirus. Gooding said the facility had a COVID-19 unit at one time, but that no longer exists.

“We are COVID free and do not accept COVID-positive patients,” Gooding said in an email Thursday.

Despite the care and precautions at most of these centers, older individuals already afflicted with other illnesses are at greater risk of catching the coronavirus, according to the website of the AARP.

“That concentration is a key reason why 2 in 5 U.S. deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, according to tracking by the Kaiser Family Foundation ... “, the AARP website reports.

The national association’s website also listed conditions at nursing homes that can fuel the spread of the disease: shortages of coronavirus tests; shortages of or lack of access to personal protective equipment such as masks and gowns; frequent physical contact between residents and staff understaffing; employees who work in multiple facilities, increasing chances for exposure; residents sharing rooms; and transfers of residents from hospitals and other settings.

“These factors make nursing homes potential breeding grounds for viral and bacterial diseases, especially given chronic problems with infection control that predate the pandemic,” the AARP website states.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the CDC issued guidance in early spring on reducing the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes. Facilities were instructed to strictly limit visitation, suspend communal dining and group activities for residents, screen residents daily for fever and other COVID-19 symptoms, screen anyone entering the building for symptoms, observe flexible sick-leave policies for staff members and require staff to wear masks.

While she would not reveal any information regarding COVID-19 cases among residents or staff at her location, Robin Perez, executive director of Prestige Assisted Living on Avenida Cochise, said many of those precautions and practices have been ongoing at the facility.

Perez said there are 54 residents and 42 to 45 staff at the facility. All employees are required to wear masks or face shields, as are all essential workers. Staff members are screened daily when they come in to work and must fill out a questionnaire.

Residents’ temperatures are taken daily and there is no group dining. In order to have enough room for everyone, residents may only eat one meal a day in the dining room and they get to choose which one — breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Visitors are allowed, but the visits with the resident must be outside and everyone must wear masks, Perez said. Anyone who does enter the facility to see a loved one must produce negative COVID-19 test results taken within 48 hours. The visitor also must show that they quarantined.

Messages left with the Cochise County Health and Social Services Department went unanswered Thursday. But the county’s website continues to show that people age 65 and older are the second-highest demographic in Cochise County with the virus. As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the county’s COVID-19 statistics showed that of 3,901 confirmed cases, 622 of those were people age 65 and older. The highest number of cases — 1,584 — continues to be in the 20-44 age group.

Community hopes to help homeless with alternative to cash
  • Updated

SIERRA VISTA— A coupon booklet worth $6 could help change a homeless person’s life.

At least that’s what some city officials are hoping for.

The coupon booklet, or vouchers, are known as Better Bucks. Each one, though valued at only $1, can help bring about some significant change, Sierra Vista Police officials say.

That’s because instead of giving a homeless person money that could in turn be used to buy something that’s not in that individual’s best interest — narcotics, alcohol, drug paraphernalia — Better Bucks may only be used to purchase food, toiletries and other essentials.

And while the creators of this program — Flagstaff Police Department and the Shadows Foundation — say a coupon booklet probably can’t cure someone’s deep-seated issues, but the booklet can point the individual in the right direction to get the help he or she needs.

Sierra Vista Police Corp. Scott Borgstadt has been researching the Better Bucks program for the last several months. He has met with Flagstaff officials and hopes that Better Bucks soon will become a reality here. Borgstadt and Police Chief Adam Thrasher agree that it could help alleviate the city’s panhandling situation, which has elicited complaints from citizens.

“I think it’s a good program,” Thrasher said. “We’ve been exploring different ideas because of the complaints we’ve gotten about panhandlers.”

Borgstadt explained how Better Bucks works: Each Better Buck is worth just that — a buck. The bucks come in booklets of five. The booklet costs $6, with $1 going toward printing and administrative costs. Once the coupon or voucher booklets are produced and become available at different locations throughout the city, they can be purchased by the public and people can give them to a needy person instead of handing them cash.

“People can purchase one booklet or as many booklets as they want,” Borgstadt said. “You can give someone one Better Buck or as many as you want.”

Various businesses and grocery stores can sign up to participate in the program and accept the Better Bucks from a patron. Borgstadt said people can spend up to 20 Better Bucks per store visit, even if they have more. If a person is short a few dollars on their purchase, he or she won’t be allowed to make up the difference with regular cash.

Also, since Better Bucks are $1 each, people who use them will not be given change if their items turn out to be more money and they pay with Better Bucks, Borgstadt said. For example, if an item costs $3.50 and the buyer gives $4 in Better Bucks, the change will go back into the local Better Bucks foundation, Borgstadt said.

In order to direct people to social service providers, the names of local agencies will be printed on the Better Bucks booklet so that those who use them will be aware of the services that are available and can be accessed via the Better Bucks program, Borgstadt said.

The coupon booklets also will include a free bus pass if the person needs a ride to a grocery store or a social service provider.

Businesses that participate in the program would be reimbursed by the local non-profit organization that runs the Better Bucks program, Borgstadt said. Better Bucks are not legal tender, so when someone pays with a Better Buck, the store or business must attach the Better Buck to a receipt so that they are paid back for the goods sold.

While Sierra Vista’s plan is in the “early, early stages,” according to Mayor Rick Mueller, city officials hope it’s a plan that takes off.

“I think Flagstaff has had some good results,” Mueller said. “I hope we can get something like that here.”

A board of directors for the program was recently formed and had its first meeting, Borgstadt said. The board is made up of a handful of community leaders, but Borgstadt said they are looking for at least one business owner to join the panel.

Following in Flagstaff’s footsteps, Borgstadt said an existing nonprofit organization must run the Better Bucks program. He said the board of directors is in the process of producing a list of requirements that nonprofits would have to meet in order to run Better Bucks.

Borgstadt said he believes the applications with the requirements for any nonprofit interested in running Sierra Vista’s Better Bucks could be ready by the first part of January.

Funding sources also are key. Borgstadt said start-up costs for the Better Bucks program will run $10,000 to $15,000. That’s the cash needed to produce the Better Bucks booklets, as well as money that must be available to pay back the participating businesses.

The cash would be kept in a bank account administered by the nonprofit organization that runs the program. Borgstadt said he he has been talking with some possible “funding sources,” but could not reveal their names.

Flagstaff began its program about three years ago after a plan to stop panhandlers failed because the American Civil Liberties Union said the city was impinging on panhandlers’ rights to free speech. The city had to come up with a different plan aimed at discouraging people from giving panhandlers money.

“(Do) not give cash,” said Flagstaff Police Lt. Paul Lasiewicki, one of the creators of the Better Bucks idea, in a video. “ ... They’ll (panhandlers, the homeless) spend it on something that can hurt them or hurt the community. Help the people who need the help in a way that’s responsible and compassionate.”

Flagstaff Police and the Shadows Foundation, which provides services and financial assistance to people affected with a life-threatening illness, partnered to form Better Bucks.

Borgstadt said he believes the program can only do good in Sierra Vista because there are people who are truly in need and then there are individuals who police refer to as “professional panhandlers.” The latter are usually not homeless and make $60 to $80 daily begging.

In a recent Facebook video with the Sierra Vista Area Chamber of Commerce, Mueller mentioned if someone refuses a Better Buck, that’s not a good sign.

“If they accept the Better Buck, at least you know the money is going toward something good,” Mueller said.

Borgstadt agreed.

“No one can find a downside to this,” he said.” It’s a win-win for everyone.”