ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – April 10, 2020. It’s moving day for patients at an Albuquerque nursing home. One after the other, they are carefully loaded in ambulances and medical vans for transport elsewhere. They are in their 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, one is 102. Many are wheelchair-bound. A few are in hospice. All are medically fragile. But their departure is not voluntary. In fact, all 54 patients at Canyon Transitional Rehabilitation Center are being forced out, evicted.
Eighty-four-year-old Janet B., originally from Austin, is a Texas Longhorns and Dallas Cowboys fan. She was admitted to the Canyon facility in 2018 following a fall. “She has progressed to the point where she’s almost walking in a walker and almost talking in full and complete sentences,” says Janet’s daughter, Jennifer Shoman. “Her short term memory is pretty much gone. Her long term memory is intact. She remembers her family,” Ms. Shoman said.
Last month an Administrator at Canyon called Jennifer to say her mom would have to vacate the premises. “They were very specific to say that the Governor had ordered it. In fact, they mentioned her name specifically. They said that the Governor had ordered that that facility would be evacuated and COVID-19 patients would be brought in,” Ms. Shoman said. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought it must be a mistake. I asked how quickly that could potentially happen. And she said it could happen tomorrow,” Shoman said.
Ninety-seven-year-old Shirley C. was a gifted commercial artist known for her sense of humor. She had been a patient at Canyon for eight years. “She still has some sense of humor, but she gets confused easily. She has some heart problems and has been losing weight so they put her on hospice,” says Shirley’s sole living relative, Jan Siegrist.
In April Jan Siegrist got the call from Canyon. “The administrator said that all of the residents of Canyon were going to be moved to other locations. … They told me she was going to be moved the following day on Saturday, the next day. So I had about 24 hours notice. It made me angry. And it made me very protective of my aunt,” Jan Siegrist says.
Sixty-year-old Alvin S. is funny, smart, and likes to make people laugh. Wheelchair-bound, Alvin has been a patient at Canyon for one year. “He was involved in a motorcycle accident over 40 years ago that caused him to have a brain injury, and, a disability on his left side of his body,” says Alvin’s sister, Lisa Padilla.
Last month, a Canyon caseworker told Lisa her brother had to leave the nursing home. “It was just put on us within a few days, ‘This is what we decided. This is what we’re gonna do.’ And he’s gone. That’s it. It’s done,” says Ms. Padilla.
102-year-old Helen D. worked in retail sales for 30 years. A long-time resident at Canyon, Helen was given 24 hours notice to move out.
What is this all about?
It relates directly to the coronavirus pandemic crisis. State officials went looking for a healthcare facility that could accommodate COVID-19 patients who are recovering but still need nursing care. Canyon’s Corporate Office, Genesis HealthCare, volunteered to convert its Albuquerque nursing home from a rehab center to a COVID-19 recovery facility.
In an agreement signed last month, New Mexico Health officials directed Canyon to discharge all of its existing patients as soon as possible. In return, Canyon receives $600 a day for each COVID-19 patient admitted, and, $600 a day for each empty bed, up to 30 empty beds.
For example, before the agreement, Canyon received about $280 a day to care for 102-year-old Helen D. Today, Canyon receives $600 for any COVID-19 patient that occupies Helen’s old bed. And if Helen’s former bed remains empty, the state pays Canyon $600 a day anyway.
“I certainly knew that people who resided there, who were cared for there, would be displaced,” New Mexico Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel says. “We needed a location where we could isolate sick people. And it’s regrettable that anyone had to move to make that happen,” Secretary Kunkel said. “I think that the State has an obligation to make tough choices and do the best they can with whatever the ramifications are.”
“They’re in the business of caring for people. But this decision showed extreme disregard and disrespect for the residents, their families, and the staff at Canyon who have worked very hard to keep this a COVID free environment,” says Jan Siegrist who cares for her 97-year-old Aunt.
“It’s devastating. I feel there is just a total lack of consideration for the families and for the residents at Canyon,” says Jennifer Shoman. “I feel like my mom was treated like revenue, disposable, and that her needs and health and well-being were not taken into consideration.”
“They didn’t consider the people that were already there. (Canyon patients are) all pretty vulnerable and they’re already sick,” Lisa Padilla said.
New Mexico’s Aging and Long Term Services Cabinet Secretary, Katrina Hotrum-Lopez says she “would feel devasted” if her family member had been told to vacate Canyon. “These were tough choices and my heart goes out to the family and to the residents that had to leave that facility,” Secretary Hotrum-Lopez said. “It’s devastating and difficult, but still something the State felt like we had to make in order to keep all populations safe.”
“Of course patients have the right to be consulted before they’re moved. In a normal world, we would never move someone without their consent,” Health Secretary Kunkel says. “It isn’t normal times, though. There’s no winner in this. … These families have rights. What I’m trying to do is keep them alive, keep them safe. They have rights, of course. And this particular group that moved, I think the State owes them a great debt of gratitude for being the ones that made room for sicker people.”
Many of Canyon’s former residents are now settled in at other area nursing homes. Lisa Padilla says the transition has been difficult for her brother Alvin. “He was not happy. He wanted to leave (the new facility). He said, ‘I don’t like it here. I want to get out of here. I want to go back,'” Ms. Padilla said.
“They knew that the elderly and the disabled could not complain or question this,” Jan Siegrist says. “I believe that they hoped that those of us who love and support those folks would not have time to raise questions or concerns. And that’s why the move happened so quickly. I think that’s despicable.”
Sadly, Jan Siegrist’s 97 year old Aunt, Shirley Campbell, died Friday at an area nursing home, less than a month after being evicted from Canyon.
Jennifer Shoman has a message for the New Mexico officials who orchestrated the Canyon deal, “Have some consideration for the families. I think it’s important that they review what happened here to make sure that it never happens again.”
“Certainly those are things that we can do better and must do better if we ever do this again,” Aging and Long Term Services Secretary Hotrum-Lopez says. “I don’t think we owe them an apology as much as we owe them gratitude to make this sacrifice in this time. … Those are the tough decisions that we were making and still continue to have to make.”
“These individuals were asked, or told, to move so that we could create a facility that would protect as many people as possible,” Health Secretary Kunkel says “I don’t think it’s ever going to feel good to those families. The weight of responsibility that I feel as Secretary of Health is immeasurable. … That doesn’t mean that I can just bulldoze over people no matter how great my responsibility is. People matter. If we can’t communicate to our citizens, we’re in trouble.”
In a prepared statement, Canyon’s Executive Director, Jennifer Riggs said, in part, “We recognize this transition was difficult for Canyon Transitional patients and their families, and we worked closely with the State Ombudsman team to communicate and safely transfer these residents to other centers where there were no residents with the virus. Based on our experience, it was the best way to save the most lives in Albuquerque.”
A spokesperson for Canyon’s Corporate office, Genesis HealthCare, did not respond to KRQE News 13’s request for an interview.
Statement from Canyon Transitionals’ parent company, Genesis
Genesis HealthCare was honored that the State of New Mexico asked us to share our learnings from other areas of the country and dedicate a facility to keep those with the virus away from those without the virus. As seen in other states with large outbreaks, this is one of the best ways to save lives and protect healthy residents.
At the request of the State, we quickly converted Canyon Transitional Rehabilitation Center into a dedicated COVID-19 recovery facility that is safely treating patients with the virus. Genesis has ten facilities in the Albuquerque area, and is committed to the care of this important population. Canyon Transitional was selected because it had the fewest number of patients of any of our facilities in Albuquerque and there were no COVID patients, allowing for safe transfer or discharge.
We recognize this transition was difficult for Canyon Transitional patients and their families, and we worked closely with the State Ombudsman team to communicate and safely transfer these residents to other centers where there were no residents with the virus. Based on our experience, it was the best way to save the most lives in Albuquerque.
During the week of April 13, we were able to safely discharge 54 individuals from the facility either directly home, if their health status permitted, or transfer them to another facility, where their care continues. We are grateful to the patients, families for all their help in making this transition. They are the true heroes, along with all the healthcare workers working every day to keep our residents safe.Jennifer Riggs
Center Executive Director
From the Patient Placement Agreement with NMDOH
As soon as reasonably practicable, the Center shall discharge any residents that have
tested negative for COVID-19. The Center shall follow federal and state transfer and
discharge regulations, taking into account waivers and amendments made to those
regulations by the federal government or the State of New Mexico. Residents have the
right to be readmitted to the Center after the public health emergency, provided that the
Center continues to operate as a skilled nursing facility.