San Jose: Senior care facilities take steps to protect residents from coronavirus
A caregiver assists a resident during a recent meal at a San Jose senior care facility. Photo by Carina Woudenberg.

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to climb in Santa Clara County, those caring for the most vulnerable residents — senior citizens — are increasingly on edge.

Senior home workers in the South Bay are wiping down commonly touched surfaces more frequently and taking inventory of items such as hand sanitizer, masks and gloves. Some homes have asked family members to wait on visiting their loved ones.

“One of our seniors is over 100 years old,” said Pat Hall, who runs three senior care facilities in San Jose with his wife Debra. “Why would they want to put them at risk?”

Hall said the decision, which he and his wife made Sunday, was met with “grumbling” from families, but was reinforced Friday when the Trump administration announced that it will restrict nonessential staff from senior homes except in end-of-life situations.

The Halls — who run All About Seniors and Kimberly’s Elder Kare — are especially concerned because some of their residents’ family members have connections to a school district and health care facilities, potentially exposing them to more people who’ve come into contact with the virus.

“Just one germ and (our residents) can die,” Debra Hall said.

All About Seniors and Kimberly’s Elder Kare co-owner Debra Hall stands outside one of the three facilities she operates in San Jose with her husband Pat. Photo by Carina Woudenberg.

Trump on Friday declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency, which would make available nearly $50 billion for state and local governments to deal with the outbreak. Santa Clara County is among the highest in the country with confirmed coronavirus cases — 91 people have tested positive, according to county health officials, and two individuals have died.

Eight firefighters and four TSA agents working in San Jose also have been infected and county officials ordered all public schools to close for three weeks. Additionally, county leaders limited public and private events to no more than 100 people.

The danger of the disease on vulnerable populations, such as elders, has been on full display in Washington state, where the coronavirus is responsible for the deaths of 31 people, including 22 at a senior care facility in Kirkland, Washington, a Seattle suburb.

Last week, a 90-year-old patient living at an assisted living facility in Sacramento County died of the virus, also known as COVID-19.

Citing these escalating concerns, some owners and staff at several senior care homes in San Jose declined to provide interviews or allow photos. County officials have encouraged seniors to stay indoors, limit contact with others and practice enhanced hygiene and cleaning procedures.

“The health and well-being of Atria residents and employees is our first priority,” said Mike Gentry, senior vice president of care for Atria Senior Living, in a statement. “Beyond following all recommended guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, we are taking additional precautions to ensure our residents and employees stay safe.”

The company operates more than 200 communities across the country, including three in San Jose.

Gentry said the company has added safety measures that include postponing or canceling all events that would bring three or more visitors to one of their communities. Atria Senior Living has also canceled all excursions to public gathering places including theaters, religious services and grocery stores.

San Jose officials announced on Monday that monthly senior bus trips from the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services would be canceled until May. The trips, which give older adults an opportunity to visit different locales throughout the city, have been suspended because they don’t allow for “social distancing.”

Carolina Camarena, a parks department spokeswoman, told San José Spotlight that the city has canceled all events that don’t allow for social distancing, including bus trips for teenagers.

David Hahklotubbe, a gerontologist and chairperson for a senior roundtable in Monterey County, strongly supports the strict visitation standards. The part-time San Jose resident will be operating Sonnet Hill — an assisted living and memory care facility due to open its doors in San Jose in July.

Hahklotubbe said he’s worked in the industry for more than two decades and has seen illness spread through senior care facilities before. He adds that the biggest challenge is convincing family members to keep their distance.

“It’s like herding cats,” he said. “If your mom or dad is in a care facility and you have so much as the sniffles, stay away.”

The digital age helps keep families in contact, however.

“We have high-speed broadband,” Hall said. “We have the ability to provide a video interface.”

Contact Carina Woudenberg at [email protected] or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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