'A hole in our hearts.' Life Care Center of Farmington remembers 44 residents lost to COVID-19

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC — Life Care Center of Farmington saw its first case of COVID-19 on April 1, marking the start of a 115-day outbreak that killed 44 residents and infected both residents and staff.

The residential facility remembered those residents last week by planting a healing tree that includes a memorial plaque honoring those who died.

Life Care Center hung wind chimes on the tree and sent matching wind chimes to the families who lost loved ones during the outbreak. A video of the ceremony can be viewed at www.lcca.com/Farmington.

The memorial plaque features a quote from Forrest L. Preston, the founder and chairman of Life Care Centers of America, that reads: "Life Care is a family. When a family member is taken it leaves a hole in our hearts. When the culprit is an unprecedented virus, the hole is deeper. The wound hurts a little more. The absence casts a darker pall on those of us left behind. But the memories of those we lost will continue to shine and sustain us as we move forward and fight to protect our family."

Admissions Director Julia Martinez and Executive Director Josh Martin unveil the permanent plaque during a memorial service, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, at Life Care Center of Farmington.

The facility was declared COVID-free in July and has kept the virus at bay ever since, but the memory of how it swept through the home remains fresh for both staff and residents.

“When COVID-19 was first diagnosed here in the building, it was scary,” Director of Nursing Julie Hank-Sanderson said in a press release. “I couldn't believe we had a case in my building — in one of my residents who called Life Care home. It took this battle to a whole new level. One second, we were trying to keep the virus out; the next we were fighting an unseen enemy that struck fast and hard. It didn't care your age, your ethnicity or where you came from in life. It struck all the same, and the results were devastating.”

MORE:Pandemic presents 'an invitation' to evaluate caring for vulnerable populations

Between April 1 and July 24, 87 residents contracted the virus as well as 53 employees. According to the press release, 40 of those residents recovered, three were discharged and the rest died. All the employees recovered. Since July 24, the facility has had a single positive COVID-19 test and it was not among the residents.

Jamie Church, Farmington Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, left, and Millie Howle, president of the Redcoat Ambassadors at the chamber, tie memorial ribbons on the healing tree at Life Care Center of Farmington.

Life Care Center of Farmington staff remains painfully aware of the dangers of COVID-19 and its management says it has implemented a variety of safety precautions to prevent the virus from entering its facility once again.

All staff and visitors are screened for symptoms, including temperature checks, and the HVAC system is being modified with technology that can trap particles in a filter and destroy the virus. Family members are limited to virtual visits and window visits. Staff members undergo regular testing and there is an infection control nurse on staff.

“Even as the state is seeing its highest new case statistics since the pandemic began, our facility remains free of COVID-19 due to the vigilance of our associates in the areas of infection control and safety,” said Josh Martin, the facility's executive director.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.