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Tucson nursing home confirms a coronavirus outbreak among residents, staff
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Tucson nursing home confirms a coronavirus outbreak among residents, staff

A patient sits outside while waiting for nurses at Sapphire of Tucson Nursing and Rehabilitation in Tucson on March 30, 2020.

Scott Franklin didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to his dad.

Within hours of finding out he had been transferred to the hospital from Sapphire of Tucson nursing home, Scott found himself making the difficult decision to take his father off life support.

Following his death on Saturday, 64-year-old Lloyd Franklin’s test results came back. His was another death attributed to the coronavirus.

“He was a great man, very smart, very intelligent,” 33-year-old Scott said through tears. “He was very self-sufficient and always advocated for himself.”

Lloyd suffered from a condition similar to hip dysplasia that kept him immobile and bed-ridden. The Tucson nursing home at 2900 E. Milber St., just south of Banner — University Medical Center South, was Lloyd’s residence for the past six years.

The source of the infection is still under investigation.

The first patient from the nursing home was taken to the hospital on Friday, March 20, a source at Banner South said. The 27-year-old man had a movement disorder and died of COVID-19 several days later, marking the fifth coronavirus-related fatality in Pima County.

Most of the patients that were brought to Banner South were on ventilators as of Friday, the source said.

At just over a week since the home saw its first case, 26 additional Sapphire residents and staff members tested positive, including Lloyd.

After not being able to get a hold of his dad for several days last week, Scott called the nursing home Saturday morning to ask if everything was OK.

Staff members informed Scott that his dad had been transferred to the hospital two days prior. He said this was the first time that he had been notified by staff members that his dad was sick and had been taken to Banner South.

“I was told over the phone that they can neither confirm or deny that there are any cases of the coronavirus at this facility,” Scott said.

When he called the hospital, they said his dad was on a ventilator and in critical condition.

“Within two hours after that, I received a phone call from the hospital stating that he wasn’t going to make it through the night and that I needed to make some medical decisions,” Scott said.

With the hospital not allowing any visitors amid the pandemic, Scott didn’t have a chance to see his dad in person. He said a nurse at the hospital set up a video call so he could see him before they disconnected the machines.

When asked about the care that his dad received at Sapphire at Tucson, Scott said he attempted to have his dad transferred from the facility three times.

“I had been told that his condition made him untransferable and he couldn’t leave the facility without risk of breaking his hip and causing permanent damage or death,” he said.

Over the past several years, he said, the quality of care that his dad received at the nursing home declined.

“He had a chronic cough for the past two years that I had brought to their attention,” Scott said. “They said that they attempted to do a lung X-ray one time, and that he refused it. When I talked to him about it, he said that he had never been approached about it. So he had a prior condition that I think was undiagnosed.”

Scott said his dad had physical disabilities, but that his mind was still sharp.

The Arizona Daily Star received several reports that residents and staff members were not notified that COVID-19 was present in the nursing home until Monday.

The Star could not contact Sapphire of Tucson administrators for more information, but a statement released Monday morning said that they were in contact with local and state health officials to control the situation.

“We continue to collaborate closely with Arizona Department of Health Services and county health officials,” the statement said. “We are also in contact multiple times a day with additional health experts in Tucson, ensuring we are taking every possible step to provide the appropriate care to all our residents.”

The nursing home said for the past two weeks they have had limited access to visitors and have continued to follow infection-control guidelines. The facility said it is also asking employees to closely monitor their own symptoms.

“We have instructed any staff member who believes they may have been exposed to the virus, or are developing symptoms of respiratory infection, to leave work and self-isolate at home.”

It is unclear how the facility is working to isolate residents at this time.

The Pima County Health Department said in a statement Monday that it is working with Sapphire of Tucson and other long-term care facilities to mitigate the effects of COVID-19.

“Residents of those facilities can experience increased risk for contracting the virus since they live and eat in close proximity with one another and are at high risk because of age and/or medical conditions that put them at an increased risk,” the county’s statement said.

The department said it has liaisons to work with these facilities to investigate outbreaks, provide guidance on how to isolate residents, provide personal protective equipment and provide guidance on how to alert patients and staff of an outbreak.

“We’re trying our best to support Sapphire in this instance, but they will unfortunately not be the only one,” said Pima County Health Department Community Relations Programs Manager Aaron Pacheco. “Our goal is to prevent other facilities from experiencing this, but once you get a case, those are places where viruses spread easily and we see that every year with norovirus and the flu.”

For Scott, the impact of coronavirus hit home quickly. Now, he said he and his family need time to process and grieve. He said he hopes to take a cross-country trip to spread his dad’s ashes in some of his favorite places.

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