Long-term care facilities in Denver — home to deadly coronavirus outbreaks — cited for not complying with health orders

The citations could result in fines, jail time or criminal charges.
4 min. read
Outside the The Argyle Assisted Living on Monday, May 18, 2020, in Denver’s Berkeley neighborhood. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

Three long-term care sites have been issued summonses to appear in court that could result in fines, jail time or even criminal charges for allegedly not complying with the city's public health orders prompted by the pandemic.

The Department of Public Health & Environment created a field team of investigators to conduct compliance checks after issuing public-health orders to some 118 long-term care, ancillary care and independent living communities on March 13. The summonses, issued to Argyle Assisted Living, Carillon at Belleview and Harvard Square, are handed out when the team determines that orders "are not followed in an intentional or egregious way," according to the city. For example, Carillon at Belleview was cited after two COVID-19 positive residents were allegedly seen moving around the facility.

These types of long-term care facilities are home to at least 36 outbreaks, according to the city's latest figures. They make up a bulk of the city's fatal COVID-19 cases, with at least 161 residents dying from the disease. There are 4,683 cases and 249 total deaths from the disease in Denver.

The latest state figures -- which can sometimes vary from the city's own numbers -- show an active outbreak at all three sites that were cited.

  • Carillon at Belleview has 17 confirmed COVID-19 cases among residents and 12 among staff members. Eight residents have died.
  • Harvard Square has 40 confirmed COVID-cases among residents and 15 among staff. Fifteen residents have died.
  • Argyle has two confirmed COVID-19 cases and one staff case. There are no reported deaths.

Argyle received its citation on April 23 because staffers were allegedly not properly wearing personal protective equipment or practicing physical distancing in the smoking areas, and people were gathering in a common area.

Argyle Executive Director Janis Mueller said in a statement to Denverite that it's asking staff to keep masks on before coming in through the front doors, and it's rolling out video training for proper PPE wearing and maintenance.

"Some staff members were not being screened if they left their shift briefly, such as to go to their car and come back into the building,"  Mueller said in the statement. "We are now screening staff upon reentry."

Vicky Doyle, a public relations manager for Watermark Retirement Communities, which owns Harvard Square, said the facility is working with the city's public health department to protect its residents.

"We continue to closely monitor PPE use to ensure all appropriate protocols are followed, based on CDC guidelines and guidance from the Denver Department of Public Health," Doyle said. "After the citation, testing became available and we have tested all residents and associates. We have sought direction from the Department of Public Health regarding where they would like residents placed once they return from the hospital. We are absolutely committed to the well-being of our residents and associates."

According to Carillon at Belleview's citation, issued April 27, two residents who were positive for COVID-19 and one resident being monitored for symptoms were seen outside their rooms, including in dining areas and walking in hallways. (Representatives from Carillon at Belleview have not returned a request for comment for this story.)

The citation noted that a stocked self-service cereal station with utensils didn't include any signage that said it was closed. PPE wasn't being used correctly by staff members in communal areas, medical equipment was being used without being disinfected between patients, and there was no set cleaning schedule, according to the summons.

Harvard Square got its citation on May 9. The citation noted staff had been moving COVID-19 positive and symptomatic patients to areas where there were residents who did not have the illness or were symptom-free.

The citation also noted Harvard Square staffers were improperly re-using PPE and tried to disinfect suits with a sanitizing solution before storing them in plastic bags on hangers near a memory care unit.

The city's health department has handed out 19 notices of violations to other long-term care sites, which are less serious than the summonses. These notices outline non-compliance with the city's public health department's order and include suggestions for how each site can correct them.

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