Staff changes at AspenRIdge concern residents, families

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By Gabriel Vasquez

The Los Alamos Retirement Community (LARC) Advocacy Group met Friday evening to discuss concerns over the inconsistent level of care they say is being given to AspenRidge residents, a local retirement and assisted-living community.

The group, a mix of AspenRidge residents and their family members, was recently formed to bring attention to issues related to the quality of care at the assisted-living community, and to report their findings to the LARC board of directors, a group that oversees the operations at several area retirement and nursing homes.

Friday’s meeting focused primarily on the impending staff changes at AspenRidge that would leave its residents without a nurse from the hours of 7 p.m.-7 a.m., beginning in June. Around 25 people attended.

“There are a lot of people here paying for nursing care,” said Beth Johnson, coordinator of the LARC Advocacy Group. “We need specific suggestions on how this problem can be solved.”

Richard Hutson, family member of an Aspen Ridge resident, said he was told by staff that there would be an on-site nurse 24 hours a day, but when he recently contacted LARC administration, he was told specifically that no such care was in the contract he signed, and that 24-hour care was a “luxury,” not a requirement.

“There’s no requirement for us to do that,” said Marty Holland, president of the LARC board of directors. “We’re trying to save money. As long as there is a nurse available across the street, at Sombrillo, there is no problem. There is a nurse there (at Aspen Ridge) all day during normal hours.”

Other concerned family members also said they were told there would be an on-site nurse at night prior to enrolling their loved ones at the retirement center. The Aspen Ridge website (http://aspenridgelodge .com) lists only a “24-hour staff call system for peace of mind” under one of its levels of services.

“My concern is that they may push and push that button (to call for help), and never get to see anyone,” said Meg Kennison, whose in-laws are AspenRidge residents.

Holland said there would be certified nurse assistants on-site during night-time hours to contact the nurse at the neighboring Sombrillo nursing home should a need arise.

Another issue that several people discussed was defining the legal requirements of an assisted living home, which, according to state law, has fewer regulations than a nursing home.

“The basic problem, seems to me, is that you have to define what assisted living is,” said June Wall, who has a family member at AspenRidge. “It doesn’t require nursing. I think the needs of some of the residents here may be superceding the requirements of assisted living.”

The State Bar of New Mexico’s Senior Legal Handbook defines an assisted living facility as one that “bridges the gap between living independently and living in a nursing home.”

“Assisted living is not an alternative to nursing home care,” it states.  “Rather, it is a different level of care for more independent residents who generally do not require constant care, but do need help with such tasks as housekeeping, laundry, bathing, eating and medications.”

A representative from New Mexico’s Aging and Long-Term Services Department was unavailable for comment.

Johnson said the reason there would soon be no night nurse on duty may be attributed to the lack of communication between the LARC board and the staff at AspenRidge. She said that there is currently no central management figure at the retirement home, and the turnover rate for employees there was proof that better communication was needed.

“There isn’t anybody really in charge,” she said. “The board administrator has her own business in Albuquerque, and she is only here two to three times a week.”

Aspen Ridge, Four Seasons and Sombrillo are nonprofit organizations that receive funding primarily from residents’ monthly living costs and government health-care organizations like Medicare and Medicaid.

“I think the board really needs to put somebody in charge soon,” said Aspen Ridge resident Maggie McCulloch.

Johnson said during a LARC Board meeting Tuesday, LARC treasurer Allan Conner said they were looking into hiring a management company to handle the daily operations at Aspen Ridge.

The LARC Board president said hiring a management company was a possibility, but no official decision has been made.

“The board is overloaded, they need help.” Johnson said.

The LARC Advocacy Group made a unanimous decision during the closing of their meeting to contact the LARC board of directors to resolve the night-care issue, and to request a time-line of the hiring process for new management.

On a side note, attendees of the meeting praised AspenRidge for their wide-range of activities offered to residents, the efficiency of transportation and the recently hired “friendly” front-desk staff.