With a spike in the numbers of people testing positive for COVID-19, some Sun Cities senior care facilities report very few, if any, confirmed cases.
Grandview Terrace, 14515 W. Granite Valley Drive, Sun City West is one of Sun Health Communities properties for senior living. Approximately 420 residents reside on the Grandview Terrace campus with 270 employees. Yet the number of positive cases reported remain at zero, according to facility officials. Brookdale Camino del Sol, 14001 W. Meeker Blvd., Sun City West Public Relations Project Manager Heather Hunter said that facility has no confirmed cases or deaths. Heritage Tradition, 19303 N. New Tradition Road, had two positive cases among the staff, but none among residents, according to a statement sent to the Sun City West Independent June 21.
While Sun City care facilities could not boast of zero cases, two agencies have very low numbers. The Gardens of Sun City, 17225 N. Boswell Blvd., has two confirmed cases, both residents, according to Jack Kelleher, Gardens spokesman. Atria Heritage, 10101 W. Palmeras Drive, had one confirmed case, which was cleared May 29, according to Mike Gentry, senior vice president of care.
“All employees at our Heritage Sun City community were tested for COVID-19 by Mayo Clinic Laboratories, and all employees tested negative for COVID-19,” he stated in an email.
Officials at three other care facilities — The Woodmark, 17207 N. Boswell Blvd.; Sun Valley Lodge, 12415 N. 103rd Ave.; and Royal Oak, 10015 W. Royal Oak Road — were offered an opportunity to provide input for this story, but none responded by press time.
Mr. Gentry said the health and well-being of residents and employees is Atria Heritage officials’ first priority.
“We continue to operate under escalated safety protocols at Atria Heritage Sun City,” he stated in an email. “This began March 4, with actively screening all visitors and prohibiting anyone from working in any of our communities if he or she is unable to pass our screening or develops an illness while working.”
Officials took additional steps March 9, including eliminating all excursions to public places and, March 12, including limiting visits to only essential visitors, such as immediate family members and critical medical providers. They implemented full quarantine protocols at all Atria communities March 22.
“We are taking residents’ temperatures twice per day and symptom screening employees three times per day to help ensure our residents and employees stay healthy and safe,” Mr. Gentry stated.
Atria officials remain in regular communication with the Maricopa County Department of Public Health and they are supportive of the protocols that Atria staff have in place.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and are diligently following the guidelines issued by public authorities,” Mr. Gentry stated. “Our primary concern remains supporting our residents and staff. We will continue to share updates with our community as they become available.”
When the pandemic became widely known in early-March, Gardens of Sun City officials established a wide range of precautions they continue to follow, according to Mr. Kelleher.
These precautions included complying with, and in many cases exceeding, recommendations provided by the Centers for Disease Control and federal, state and local regulatory authorities, Mr. Kelleher explained. In addition, staff implemented a number of facility specific rules.
A full list of precautions are listed on the Gardens of Sun City parent company’s website. Visit fivestarseniorliving.com/covid19response.
As certain businesses began t0 reopen, Five Star Senior Living officials established an expert-led, cross-functional reopening team. The team is designing a reopening strategy, which is tailored to each line of business and is consistent with the guidelines of the White House phased reopening plan, the CDC and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as well as applicable federal, state and local regulatory authorities, according to Katie Potter, Five Star president and CEO.
In a media statement June 12, she added Five Star communities will not reopen in the same way as other businesses.
“Given the vulnerability of the population we serve, we are taking a cautious and measured approach to reopening,” she stated. “Each community must demonstrate readiness before moving through the levels of reopening.”
Part of the reopening plan will be the continued practice of social distancing and wearing face masks.
“We know that in-person visits with loved ones will be one of the most anticipated activities once your community begins the reopening process,” she stated. “You can expect that the executive director of your community will communicate with you and outline all the specifics regarding family visits as well as other activities, such as salon appointments. It will be of the utmost importance that every resident and family member abide by the guidelines established within each community.”
Ms. Potter expectd The Gardens of Sun City, and other Five Star communities, will resume as many activities as soon and as safely as possible.
The Grandview facility did have a close call, according to Bhakti Gosalia, Sun Health Communities vice president of operations. She has been with the organization for 32 years and even served as an executive director at Grandview Terrace previously.
“We at Sun Health are very proud at what we have here and I can say to you we do not have any in-house COVID-19 cases,” she explained. “We did have a case at Grandview with a person several days after leaving she was tested and was positive. We were notified and everything we were already doing, following all the stringent guidelines, were put into place.”
Ms. Gosalia said after tracing came back the positive case proved it did not originate at Grandview Terrace. She explained if there is a transference the facility is notified and proved it was not in-house, but community acquired.
“I can very proudly share with you that’s the same case we had with one employee over at another community and it was also acquired COVID-19,” Ms. Gosalia explained. “Because of stringent guidelines and everything we have in place it helped us not to spread it and that is something to be commended for all the masking we have, the six-feet distancing, hand-washing and all the personal protection devices we have.”
According to Ms. Gosalia, not many facilities can say they do not have any in-house cases and COVID-19 is not widespread.
Sun Health Communities Chief Human Resources Officer Tahlya Visintainer said Grandview Terrace is the biggest campus from a headcount standpoint in Sun Health Communities and she is proud they have zero cases.
“I know our employees are very serious about not getting it and bringing the virus onto campus. They care a lot about the residents and we see them taking measures on their own,” Ms. Visintainer said. “Everyone wears masks all the time and also within the nursing aspects if within six feet of residents they also wear gloves, goggles, mask and a gown.”
Sun Health Communities officials said taking a proactive approach, rather than waiting until 2,000 cases were confirmed in Arizona, made a difference.
Ms. Gosalia said March 11 was the first corporate meeting within the Sun Health Communities taking the approach of getting prepared.
“We came up with every protocol and through the first 75 days of quarantine we have protocols, posters and great communication , education of staff, residents and team members,” she explained.
Ms . Visitainer said the Code Purple Task Force Sun Health established is cross-functioning throughout the organization and includes operations, guidance and navigation. She said since the pandemic, the team made a it a goal to do everything in the organization’s power to prevent a COVID-19 case on campus.
Sun Health officials took the approach of putting some responsibility on residents, without taking away all the fun. When restaurants were set to open statewide, Sun Health officials knew residents would want to get out.
“But instead of the only option being leaving and risking infection, we decided to open our restaurants as we knew we could do so safely,” Ms. Gosalia said. “Likewise with the fitness center and pool. We have seen more acceptance due to offering alternatives to residents. When you try to take something away and don’t give alternatives you will not get compliance.”
Employees of Sun Health can gather the latest COVID-19 related information from the internal website and the public on the external. The organization also created a texting tool to notify residents and staff if a situation comes up.
“We have built a lot of trust through our transparency when the cases Ms. Gosalia mentioned came up we have communicated and let them know we are taking appropriate precautions,” Ms. Visintainer said.
Additionally, every week residents are getting wellness checks by the nursing teams at Sun Health.
Per the Brookdale website, facility staff is acting with an abundance of caution, reinforcing policy and procedures for contagious illnesses, such as influenza with staff.
This includes reminders about flu vaccines, washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, staying home when sick, and taking flu antivirals as prescribed. A corporate emergency response team is in place to provide support to the local teams, especially in the event of a confirmed case of COVID-19.
The Heritage Tradition officials received news of two positive COVID-19 tests.
According to The Heritage Tradition officials, upon learning two employees tested positive for COVID-19, residents, family members and staff were notified and facility officials began implementing extensive contact tracing protocols combined with additional strategic testing. Per the facility’s statement submitted to the Sun City West Independent June 21, all results came back negative.
While inside the community, employees had been wearing the appropriate face masks and following precautionary measures. The statement also stated the facility is monitoring the situation closely and working with local health department officials as well as following CDC and government guidance.
Editor's Note: News Editor Rusty Bradshaw contributed to this story.