LA nursing homes were a hotbed for COVID-19. Now they face a new reality

Hosted by

The Ararat Nursing Facility in Mission Hills, CA, has escaped relatively unscathed by COVID-19 so far. But that does not mean it’s been business as usual for residents, their families, and staff. Photo courtesy of Ararat Nursing Facility.

Denise Hovsepian says she is not sure if she will ever be able to hold her mother’s hand again. Her mother lives at the Ararat Nursing Facility in Mission Hills.

“Mom is 99 [years old]. She’ll be 100 next March,” Hovsepian says. “I just don't know. Maybe I'll never be able to touch her again … so it is difficult.”

Hovsepian is one of about 220 families that currently have loved ones staying at the Ararat Home of Los Angeles, a multicare facility that caters to Armenian families. The center has managed, for the most part, to avoid the tragedy that has befallen other assisted living and nursing homes across the LA area. Only about a dozen residents and staff have contracted COVID-19.

Ararat’s executive director Margarita Kechichian credits that success to taking preventative measures early, even before state and local mandates.

“We shut our doors on March 6, before there were any requirements for nursing homes to shut their doors,” Kechichian says. “We started wearing masks in our facility before many others. That helped keep our residents and staff safe.” 

The facility remains off-limits to outsiders. Visits with loved ones are carried out through window glass or smartphone video calls, a stark reminder of the dangers the novel coronavirus poses to the sick and elderly. A CDC study found the median age of people who died from the virus during a three month period was 78.

Elsewhere, however, the damage has already been done. Dozens of nursing homes across the LA area have not been lucky or as diligent. At one point during the pandemic, places like nursing homes made up more than 50% of all coronavirus-related deaths. 

“If we look at what's happening now, the deaths in nursing homes have gone down dramatically. That's because the nursing homes were forced, as a result of what's happened with all the deaths, to actually be proactive and take appropriate measures to protect the residents,” says Scott Glovsky, an attorney who is suing Glenhaven Healthcare in Glendale for willful neglect, among other allegations, in connection with the death of Ricardo Saldana, a 77-year-old resident. He died due to complications from COVID-19. 

Glenhaven did not respond to repeated requests for comment from KCRW.

Saldana’s daughter Jackie says she hopes her family’s lawsuit will bring change to other care facilities for LA’s elderly. 

“My father was a great person. He was a great family man,” she says. “And my dad didn’t even know what hit him. He passed away alone and without his family there.”

For now, in-person visits are not allowed in LA County.

Earlier this week, Governor Gavin Newsom’s office released guidelines for how such facilities could offer outside visits. But few are making these visits. And in LA County, where infection rates are up, it is unclear when local public health officials will allow families to visit.

For full statistics from LA’s nursing homes, click here.

Credits

Host:
Steve Chiotakis

Producers:
Christian Bordal, Jenna Kagel

Reporter:
Benjamin Gottlieb