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COVID-19 deaths mount at New Mexico State Veterans’ Home, a hot spot since October

by Kathleen Sloan | January 6, 2021
2 min read
Thirty-three residents have died since the pandemic began. Photograph courtesy of the New Mexico Department of Health

Sierra County’s death toll from COVID-19 cases stood at 37 this morning, Jan. 6, with the vast majority of deaths occurring among residents at the New Mexico State Veterans Home.

Thirty-three veterans’ home residents have died of “COVID-related” illness as of this morning, according to New Mexico Department of Health Communications Director Matt Bieber.

There have been 115 residents who have tested positive since the pandemic began, with 121 in residence as of Oct. 30, 2020. Bieber said there are now 87 residents.

There is only one active case among residents currently, Bieber said.

None of the infected residents were removed to hospitals, Bieber stated. They were treated at the home, he explained, adding that “16 residents were infused with Bamlanivimab.”

According to the Federal Drug Administration, “Bamlanivimab is an investigational medicine used for the treatment of COVID-19 in non-hospitalized adults and adolescents 12 years of age and older with mild to moderate symptoms who weigh 88 pounds (40 kg) or more, and who are at high risk for developing severe COVID-19 symptoms or the need for hospitalization.”

Those working at the home, either permanently on staff or as regular visiting therapists, total 214, with 89 testing positive since the pandemic began. There are currently 13 active cases among employees. “The rest have recovered,” Bieber said.

Bieber said the home has been considered a “hot spot” since October, triggering a higher testing rate for all residents and staff. They have been tested twice weekly versus once a month, the required protocol when a congregate home has no active cases. 

Around Dec. 20, 2020, the Department of Health put NMSVH Director Juliet Sullivan on leave, pending an investigation by the Division of Health Improvement, Bieber said. The investigation is not complete, “but it did identify Immediate Jeopardy,” Bieber said.

The U.S. Department of Health defines “Immediate Jeopardy” as a “situation in which the provider’s noncompliance with one or more requirements of participation has caused or is likely to cause serious injury, harm, impairment, or death to a resident.”

Update: The New Mexico Department of Health announced this evening, Jan. 6, the death of a resident in his 70s, bringing the total COVID-19-related deaths of veterans’ home residents to 34.

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Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at kathleen.sloan@gmail.com or 575-297-4146.

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