As the omicron variant surges across Colorado, there are signs that our medical system is starting to crack. One example is an event that happened on Christmas morning. An employee at a Denver nursing home called 911 because she was the only one who showed up for her shift at the Autumn Heights living facility.
She wanted COVID-19 positive patients transferred to the hospital.
Jennifer Belden was a nurse at Autumn Heights for eight months in 2021. She says things were bad when she left in November.
She says the facility was underpaying staff, overworking them and wasn’t hiring replacements when people quit suddenly.
“They expected you to do too much, provide top quality care, but not pay you for what they wanted you to do,” Belden said.
Jay Moskowitz, the owner of Autumn Heights, admits they are understaffed, but it isn’t for lack of trying.
“We’re in a crisis right now as an industry,” he said.
Moskowitz says they are a Medicare facility, so they are capped at how much they can charge residents. That means they are limited when it comes to what they can pay employees. Because of that, staffing agencies are hiring his employees away with more pay. He is then forced to rely on those same agencies for staffing who pass the costs onto him.
“They come back and charge us 48% more than they did last year,” Moskowitz said.
Moskowitz also says the omicron variant has spread rapidly in his facility creating additional challenges such as making both residents and staff sick.
“Our staffing needs have increased substantially and have not gone back down,” he said.
Belden says she still doesn’t think patients at Autumn Heights are getting the care they deserve.
“They’re not going to get the quality of care that you are going to be charged for,” she said.
Moskowitz says he, in partnership with the State of Colorado, will always make sure his residents are getting quality care.
In a statement on Christmas Day, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said:
“CDPHE was notified of the situation at Autumn Heights in Denver early today. We were briefed by Denver Department of Public Health and Environment and the Denver Health Paramedic Division was providing medical assistance. We have been in contact with Autumn Heights to ensure they have sufficient staffing and are providing staff through the State Staffing Fusion Center. The State’s Staffing Shortage Fusion Center will continue to work with the facility to determine next steps. An outbreak was first reported at this facility on December 18, and the CDPHE outbreak team has been working with the facility to mitigate and address the outbreak.”