COVID-19 Outbreak Hits South Bay Dementia Care Facility

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Just two months ago, a South Bay assisted living facility was featured in an article in the Silicon Valley Voice that carried the headline “Staying Safe And Happy At Pacific Gardens Retirement Community.”

But today, the memory care wing of the facility is all but shut down, after 13 residents and 15 staff members tested positive for COVID-19, making the 100 resident assisted living facility the hardest hit in Santa Clara County.  

Pacific Gardens management did not respond to requests for comment about its outbreak, but the president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine said it’s facing a daunting task in containing it.

“Once the virus gets into an Alzheimer’s unit, it is next to impossible to keep it from spreading,” said Dr. Mike Wasserman, who warns that simply moving residents out after such an outbreak is not always a fix.

“You don’t know if you are moving someone with the virus to a place that doesn’t have it or you’re moving someone who doesn’t have the virus to a place that does have it,” Wasserman said.

But isolating dementia patients doesn’t work either, said Pat McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. Some will inevitably wander off, potentially infecting other residents, or refuse to wear masks, she said.

Meanwhile, McGinnis said family members tell her how strict isolation can deepen their loved ones’ anxiety and fear of abandonment.

“Why bother living? What’s the point? I can’t see my family, what’s the point of even living?”

McGinnis is urging the state to expand its recent requirement that allows each family one designated visitor after a nursing home has been free of new COVID-19 cases for 14 days.

“I think it would make a major, big difference to many people,’’ McGinnis said, “particularly those with dementia, if they could see a familiar face. They know that they have not been abandoned.”

But right now, the state is leaving it up to the assisted living facilities like Pacific Gardens to decide whether to adopt recommended visitation rules. The state Department of Social Services said in a statement that it is continuing to provide updates to care providers as part of its “active engagement” with assisted living facilities during the pandemic.  

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