The continued spread of COVID-19 throughout New Mexico has brought unprecedented challenges to all agencies and providers who care, assist and advocate for seniors.
Under Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s direction, all state agencies are working together, forging new collaborations, and programs, to support and assist New Mexico’s most vulnerable.
Much of the proactive and responsive measures taken to aggressively stop the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes, have been led by the State’s Department of Health [DOH] in partnership with the State Aging and Long-Term Services Department [ALTSD].
Together they have stood up systems to daily track cases, acquire rapid testing kits, provide personal protective equipment, hire additional staff at the facilities, implement isolation plans (before and after the virus is present in a facility), impart guidance for sanitation protocols, conducting in-depth video surveillance, monitoring and interviews, and overall provide support to Nursing Home Administrators across the State.
In addition to ALTSD and DOHs’ collective rapid response to COVID cases and challenges, the ALTSD Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is also regularly connecting with nursing home and assisted living residents and their family members — providing support, accountability for the facilities, and working with residents to protect and advocate for their rights.
“By utilizing the 350 tablets distributed by the Ombudsmen, every day we are been able to connect with residents and their family members. Together with our Ombudsmen across the state we are working closely with residents to inform them of public health orders, containment guidelines, and best practices surrounding COVID-19, and informing them of what this means for their care,” said State Ombudsman Linnea Forsythe, whose department is responsible for advocating for the rights of residents and provides mediation between residents and their long term care facility.
In several counties, DOH and ALTSD have worked with local fire departments and emergency responders to assist facilities within their jurisdictions with emergency and infection control protocols. While stopping the spread of the virus is crucial, supporting facilities to implement containment measures and take proactive steps prior to any COVID positive tests, is equally important.
“Never has collaboration been more vital than it is now. Lives depend on us all working together to protect the most vulnerable in our state,” ALTSD Cabinet Secretary Katrina Hotrum-Lopez said. “I cannot thank the staff at these facilities enough for their work and the sacrifices they’re making. Many of the staff members at long-term care facilities are losing patients who they have known and befriended and are going back to work the next day. They are unsung heroes. From the bottom of my heart – thank you.”
Prior to the spread of COVID-19 in New Mexico, the DOH conducted site visits to prepare the facilities for the public health orders that we’re issued, conducted inspections, and ensured the sites had infection-control policies ready for implementation.
“In New Mexico we have some of the toughest regulations around nursing facilities,” DOH Cabinet Secretary Kathy Kunkel said. “We have a high standard of care for our nursing homes and during this health crisis are working diligently to support long-term care facilities in our state, while also enforcing strict orders to protect residents and staff.”
The State also has launched a website for facilities to report and request PPE and a site to coordinate volunteerism efforts, and most recently ALTSD debuted the Create and Connect campaign to support seniors through letter writing and engaging social media content.