Assisted living center deals with infectious outbreak

Cory Rubin/The Signal
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More than a hundred Santa Clarita Valley seniors have been affected by infectious control protocols after a gastrointestinal illness was discovered last week at an Atria assisted living center in Newhall.

Multiple seniors have been sent to the hospital because of the infectious outbreak that has affected the local senior living center since Wednesday of last week, according to Atria staff.

A prepared statement from Executive Director Johnny Ortiz said the center is affected by a “gastrointestinal illness,” but did not clarify what the exact illness is.

“We are in close communication with with local Department of Health officials and are acting in accordance with (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines and recommendations as we work to return to normal operations as quickly as possible,” Ortiz said.

The discovery of the gastrointestinal illness prompted an investigation by health officials, who determined that all residents should follow the steps outlined in the department’s infectious control protocols.

Some residents of the center have become aggravated with the circumstances, especially considering that the group expected to be cleared of the protocol prior to last Saturday, which would have been three days after the initial outbreak.

However, according to a memo sent out to residents, Atria’s most recent reported symptom took place Tuesday afternoon, meaning residents have been told to keep to their rooms for more than a week in total and will have to wait at least another 72 hours from the latest outbreak of symptoms before the situation is resolved.

“The people who are here are (former) doctors, lawyers and teachers. They’re all in their 70s and 80s and they’re spending around $70,000 a year to be here,” said Burgess Wilson, who resides at the center. “They said you can leave, but where are we supposed to go?”

While residents are not quarantined and are free to come and go as they please, Atria is taking a number of precautionary measures, including asking residents to refrain from visiting the center’s common areas to avoid the spread of the illness, Ortiz said.

Group activities and events have been cancelled, but Atria occupants are allowed outside and visitors are still able to visit after they have been reminded of the protocol and the potential for exposure, according to the memos sent from Atria staff. Group doctor visits organized by Atria have also been postponed, but those with alternate transportation arrangements are still being encouraged to go see their doctor.

Wilson said the situation has been made worse by the fact that residents aren’t sure what specific gastrointestinal illness caused the quarantine-like protocols.

“It’s terrible,” he said, mentioning the center’s Alzheimer’s patients and other residents who have no other place to go.

“We are currently sharing puzzles, crosswords and items like coloring books on a room-to-room basis to keep ourselves entertained,” Wilson said, adding that he has not had face-to-face contact with any of his peers for more than eight days, “and people continue to come down with the sickness.”

There’s no word on how long the situation could last, but Ortiz said, “The health and well-being of all those who live, work and visit our community are our top priorities at all times.”

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