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Multiple COVID-19 deaths at Fairfax nursing home, doctor asks for all patients to be tested

CDC guidelines recommend universal testing at facilities struggling with an outbreak. But that's not happening yet at Great Falls Assisted Living.

HERNDON, Va. — COVID-19 is slamming another Virginia nursing home.

A doctor who treats patients at Great Falls Assisted Living in Herndon said four of his patients have died, and two others have tested positive and recovered.

Dr. Ravi Iyer said he believes several other patients and staff have tested positive, but he can only speak with certainty about his own patients.

Dr. Iyer, a top health adviser for the facility, is pushing for it to follow CDC guidelines and test everyone there, even if they have no symptoms. But he said so far, the managers have rejected his recommendations.

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"Of my own six patients that I've tested, four have succumbed and two have recovered," he said. 

Iyer said there are about 40 elderly patients at Great Falls, many of them being treated for advanced dementia.

Unlike in Maryland, Virginia health officials are still refusing to release details on outbreaks of COVID-19 at specific nursing homes.

CDC guidelines say that in facilities where a lot of people are living together and there has been an outbreak, everyone should be tested for coronavirus, regardless of whether they're showing symptoms.

 "You can go to CDC.gov, it's right there," Dr. Iyer said. "That's not happening." 

Dr. Iyer has been a practicing physician for 35 years, most of that in Fairfax County, even testing patients for coronavirus outside his office. He doesn’t work for Great Falls, but has been going there to see his patients multiple times a week.

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He advises the nursing home on health issues, and he says he’s written and spoken to its managers, but they’ve rejected his push to test everyone.

"There is a huge disincentive to saying I have sick people, because it's expensive," Iyer said, requiring different health worker teams to treat patients who have tested positive and those who haven't.

A spokeswoman for Artis Management, which runs Great Falls, did not respond to questions about finances, but said in an email statement: "We have done everything we possibly can to protect the residents of our community." 

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Fairfax County Health said it is trying to "test asymptomatic patients" at facilities with outbreaks.

Dr. Iyer says that's critical to control the spread. 

"A lot of these health care workers are working two or three jobs, so they work one shift here, then they rest, and do a second shift in some other home," he said. 

Iyer worries the workers could be taking the virus to other facilities -- or other patients -- without ever knowing they're sick.

Dr. Iyer said that knowing whether a patient is positive before they begin showing symptoms allows him to have a discussion with family members about end-of-life care. A late-night phone call when a patient suddenly has trouble breathing usually means a rush to the hospital. But with survival rates so low for seriously ill elderly patients with underlying conditions, Dr. Iyer said families often prefer hospice care to just make their loved ones comfortable in their final minutes. 

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