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N4T Investigators: Inside Sapphire – UPDATE

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TUCSON (KVOA) - It has now been nearly six months since the News 4 Tucson Investigators broke the story about what was happening inside a Tucson nursing home, as the pandemic was just starting to take hold. 

News 4 Tucson investigator, Lupita Murillo, now has exclusive new details from inside that facility.

Sapphire of Tucson opened its doors back in 2018, and has 240 beds.

Among those who call Sapphire home are some patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Following our original News 4 Tucson Investigators report, we’ve learned there have been some big changes, but they might not go far enough. 

Earlier this year, families of some Sapphire patients told the News 4 Tucson Investigators they feared a lack of communication from the rehab facility could be putting their loved ones in harm's way.

By mid-April, the News 4 Tucson Investigators learned that 55 residents and 30 employees there had tested positive for Covid-19.

Families told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, they believed Sapphire was not being up-front about what was actually going on.

After our report, the following month, Governor Doug Ducey announced that long-term care facilities must notify next of kin for any resident who tests positive for coronavirus and requiring those facilities to disclose any previous or active COVID-19 cases in the facility to any approved applicant from a prospective resident.

One former Sapphire employee who spoke with the News 4 Tucson Investigators told us, she was extremely concerned that both COVID-19 and non-COVID patients were being housed on the same floor.

The former employee also told us there was not enough personal protective equipment - or PPE - to go around. Though, Sapphire denied there was ever a shortage. 

Now, we are learning that things at Sapphire may actually be improving.

According to information the News 4 Tucson Investigators received last week, the facility now has a COVID-19 unit, and the insider says staff there do have enough PPE. 

However, that same Sapphire resident, who doesn't want the News 4 Tucson Investigators to use their name, also tells us that despite other facilities now being open for limited family visits, they still are not sure when Sapphire will follow suit. 

That isolation from the outside world is a source of major concern.

“It’s not really possible to overstate the importance of people being visited by the folks they care about - whether that's a family of birth or family of choice," said Mark Clark, president and CEO of the Pima Council on Aging. “I’ve seen some research that's out there, that says that being isolated and lonely is the health equivalent of smoking about 15 cigarettes a day. So very bad health consequences for people that are isolated,” he added.

According to the Sapphire website, they've had 188 patients test positive for Covid-19.  They've also had 35 deaths, and 50 employees who tested positive.  

Paul Birmingham

Paul Birmingham is an Investigative Producer for KVOA News 4 Tucson. He is a three time Edward R. Murrow award winner, native Tucsonan, and a proud Arizona Wildcat.

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