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Seacrest Village
Seacrest Village resident Leon Friedman wears a mask while chatting with fellow residents in a courtyard at the assisted living center in Encinitas. Photo courtesy of Seacrest Village
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Data lacking on COVID-19’s impact on assisted living centers

REGION — It’s no secret that adults over 60 are more vulnerable to COVID-19, especially when they have health conditions such as lung or heart disease, diabetes or any other conditions that impact the immune system.

While many older people with existing health conditions choose to live in assisted living facilities, others fear that such facilities could put them at increased risk.

But despite recent outbreaks, especially here in San Diego County, there isn’t as much data regarding COVID-19 infection rates at assisted living facilities as there are for skilled nursing homes.

One of San Diego County’s worst breakouts happened at Elmcroft of La Mesa, an assisted living facility that had 18 cases among staff and 34 among residents. None of the staff members with COVID-19 died, but 14 of the residents did, making Elmcroft the county’s deadliest assisted living outbreak of COVID-19 so far.

Vista Del Lago Memory Care in Escondido is another facility that had a high amount of cases. At least 12 staff members and 44 residents have had COVID-19. There are 42 cases among residents considered active, but none of the residents or staff members have died from the disease, state data shows.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the spread of coronavirus has been “well documented” in connection to skilled nursing homes but comparatively little has been reported on COVID-19 among residents and staff members at assisted living facilities.

Seacrest Village
Residents wear masks and spend time outdoors at the facility’s courtyard in Encinitas. Photo courtesy of Seacrest Village

Skilled nursing homes, certified by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, are bound by federal COVID-19 reporting requirements. But other types of senior care facilities, such as assisted living centers, don’t have those same federal guidelines.

The California Department of Public Health regulates skilled nursing homes while the state’s Department of Social Services monitors assisted living facilities.

On a weekly basis, the Department of Social Services’ Community Care Licensing Division updates the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths among residents and staff at assisted living facilities throughout the state. At least 433 facilities have had at least one case of COVID-19 — 36 of those centers are in San Diego County.

Based on data collected from health department websites from 39 different states, the CDC determined by Oct. 15 that approximately 22% of assisted living facilities have had at least one COVID-19 case among residents or staff members.

Approximately 21.2% of assisted living facility residents who had COVID-19 died compared to the general population’s 2.5% death rate in those same states.

Luck, hard work or both?

Perhaps one of the more fortunate facilities is the Leichtag Family Assisted Living Residence at Seacrest Village, a senior living community in Encinitas that offers independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing home options.

According to state data, there have been less than 11 cases among both staff and residents and zero deaths at Leichtag.

Pam Ferris, president and CEO of Seacrest Village, said only eight assisted living residents have had COVID-19 so far, all of which were asymptomatic. Approximately 13 staff members have contracted COVID-19, 12 of which were in assisted living.

Ferris said Seacrest’s nursing home, the Dorothy & Joseph Goldberg Health Care Center, has been even more fortunate — none of the residents have contracted COVID-19 there.

“We’re doing a lot of work to keep everybody safe,” Ferris said.

Seacrest Village
Residents hang out in the courtyard at Seacrest Village in Encinitas. Photo courtesy of Seacrest Village

Seacrest has emphasized the importance of wearing masks, handwashing and remaining socially distant throughout the pandemic. The facility also routinely tests its staff members and residents.

Staff members have their temperatures checked for each shift, and everyone is required to wear masks and various other personal protection equipment (PPE) provided by the Village.

Ferris believes the community has been successful so far because of their facemask requirements for staff and residents.

Since the pandemic, Seacrest has provided meals to staff members to encourage social distancing while keeping them fed. Seacrest has also been sending meals home to staff member families.

“We’re trying to take care of our staff so they can take care of our residents,” Ferris said.

Seacrest Village was one of the first senior living communities to stop in-person visits when the pandemic began. They also stopped volunteers from coming in.

“On any given day we had hundreds of people pre-COVID come to volunteer, visit or provide entertainment and education programs to residents,” Ferris said. “We were one of the first to stop, which helped us a lot in terms of how we started out.”

Visitors and residents across from each other separated by a Plexiglass partition. During visits, residents and visitors were still required to wear facemasks.

However, Seacrest recently stopped visits after San Diego County shifted into the purple tier of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions.

“It’s a lot of two steps forward, one step back,” Ferris said. “You really have to be mindful of what’s going on in the greater community to keep it from coming into our community.”

Currently, the assisted living facility on Seacrest’s campus is in quarantine, which has stopped residents from attending small groups and in-person dining, which also recently reopened to residents on a limited basis.

Ferris said the community tries to keep a handle on any feelings of senior isolation or depression, especially now with residents in assisted living being confined to their apartments until the facility’s quarantine is over.

“I told the staff that if they come across a resident in assisted living who feels depressed or needs something more that they need to let us know,” Ferris said.

Many assisted living facilities are still open to admissions, including Seacrest Village.

Despite the threat of COVID-19, Ferris believes communities like hers are still beneficial for seniors interested in moving in.

“They’re not home alone, they’re getting tested regularly, they’re getting meals delivered or they’re going into the dining room,” Ferris said. “Life gets a lot easier for people when they move into a senior community.”