Two former residents of Diamond Peak Health Care in Challis claim during the coronavirus lockdown, staff at the facility didn’t follow physical distancing and sanitation standards, failed to adhere to state health codes and mistreated residents.
“I’m really scared this place is going to explode with the virus,” Robin Bishop said in April. Bishop and his wife, Roberta, are both in their 70s. They moved into the assisted living facility in January and moved out in May.
After the lockdown began in March, Bishop contacted the Messenger with his concerns. He said he and his wife didn’t feel comfortable staying at Diamond Peak during the pandemic. His anxieties were compounded, Bishop said, because facility staff were “careless” when it came to new health guidelines.
Throughout his communications with the Messenger, Bishop shared his worry that elderly people are hard hit by the coronavirus with people in their 70s and 80s accounting for 77 of the 89 coronavirus deaths in Idaho as of June 22. Earlier this month the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare released data showing that 25 long-term care facilities in Idaho reported 289 cases of COVID-19 among residents and employees. More than half the deaths reported in Idaho — 52 — were confirmed from those 289 cases.
In May, it was reported that nearly one-third of all coronavirus deaths in the U.S. were either residents or workers of a long-term living facility.
According to health experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention elder care facilities can be hot spots for the virus is because many people live in a confined space and workers move from room to room.
For Bishop and his wife, these realities painted a scary picture that made them feel they needed to be extra cautious while living at Diamond Peak. At one point, Bishop said he and his wife refused to eat outside of their rooms because physical distancing and sanitation standards weren’t being enforced in the cafeteria. This problem was compounded because staffers were lax about wearing gloves and masks and checking temperatures as they came in and out of the facility, Bishop said.
Melissa Ourada, a Diamond Peak co-owner in Pocatello, denied Bishop’s claims. She said in a press release to the Messenger “the owners and staff of Diamond Peak of Challis would like to assure the families and friends of our residents, as well as the residents of the community, that Diamond Peak Health Care has remained in full compliance with the Idaho Health and Welfare Assisted Living Program during COVID-19.”
In a phone conversation with the Messenger, Ourada said Bishop was a difficult resident and “there was a reason we split ways.” Orlanda Cabrito, who manages the Challis facility, backed up her supervisor and said she had a lot of issues with Bishop.
Bishop acknowledged he complained several times to Cabrito about his concerns. The Bishops found a certified family home outside of Idaho Falls where they wanted to move in April. However, their attempt to leave was blocked by Cabrito, according to Bishop. He suspected it was for financial reasons as opposed to concerns of spreading the virus. Because there were only 20 residents at the Challis facility then Bishop said he and his wife accounted for 10 percent of the money being paid by residents.
“These facilities are trying to turn a profit any way they can,” Bishop said.
Another impetus for wanting to leave, according to Bishop, was the staff’s failure to follow established state health regulations outside of COVID-19. His claims were echoed by Cindy Lopez, a medical technician who worked at Diamond Peak from January to April. During her short time there, Lopez said she saw non-certified staff handing out medication, a serious breach of protocol.
“If you give the wrong meds to the wrong person, you could kill them,” Lopez, who has been working in health care for 20 years and received her med-tech certification from the College of Eastern Idaho, said.
Cabrito and Ourada denied those allegations, but would not comment further.
Staffing was another concern for Lopez. She said the state requires there be two staff members on site in assisted living facilities at all times if there are at least 15 residents. However, Lopez said there were shifts where she was solely responsible for as many as 18 residents.
Having to look after so many people by herself stretched her capacity to care for the residents, Lopez said. This, coupled with long shifts and minimal breaks, made doing her job to the best of her abilities difficult, she said.
“You can’t give proper care when you’ve worked 10 to 11 days in a row,” Lopez said.
Cabrito’s response to the staffing issues was they are common in the medical field, especially in rural areas like Challis.
The final complaint Bishop levied against Diamond Peak was the staff at the facility regularly mistreated residents. He said when the lockdown was first implemented, residents were confined to their rooms for a month. Whenever a resident ventured into the hall, they were berated and scolded by staff.
“It’s humiliating,” Bishop said. “There’s a lot of emotionally and mentally compromised people here and they just yell at them.”
Lopez agreed with Bishop and said some of her co-workers could be very harsh to residents. She described a disrespectful culture within Diamond Peak where some of her co-workers would treat residents like children, openly gossip about them and sometimes perform their duties under the influence of a drug.
“I would never let anyone I know live there,” Lopez said. “I don’t think residents are taken care of properly.”
The Bishops left Diamond Peak after receiving notice on May 1 to have all their belongings packed and to be ready to leave at 5 p.m., May 4. After their original plan to leave fell through, Bishop said he believes he and his wife were kicked out because of the complaints they made.
Cabrito and Ourada didn’t comment on why the Bishops were told to leave other than to say they had several issues with the Bishops during their stay at Diamond Peak.