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COVID-19 outbreak reported at Hilltop House

Virus causes host of issues for community corrections facility
An outbreak of COVID-19 cases has caused a host of issues at Hilltop House, a community corrections facility in Durango.

The Hilltop House community corrections center in Durango has at least 15 residents and four staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19, causing a host of other issues associated with the virus, according to San Juan Basin Public Health.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released the numbers in its weekly Wednesday update of new COVID-19 outbreaks across the state. According to state guidelines, an outbreak is defined as two or more cases in a 14-day period.

Sally Frey, executive director of Hilltop House, did not respond to a request for comment.

Brian Devine with SJBPH said the health department also received and verified a complaint made against Hilltop House on Nov. 27 about inadequate infection-control practices at the community corrections center.

The complaint reads: “I’d like to report a business (Hilltop House) for allowing sick individuals with fevers and coughs to sit in a waiting room full of other people. I have witnessed this weekly for the past three weeks. Today the staff took a temperature of a individual three times and said it was over 100 but go sit down. He sat within 3 ft of others filling out paperwork at the front desk. This is very bad for our community especially for people my age.”

During the investigation, SJBPH also discovered Hilltop House had not self-certified its operations to show it is following public health orders such as implementing proper infection prevention practices.

Devine said SJBPH asked the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, the state agency that regulates Hilltop House, for assistance in improving the facility’s infection control and public health order compliance.

“They quickly showed to be a great partner and made quick contact with the facility to work through their infection control practices and the details of the complaint,” Devine said.

Patricia Billinger, spokeswoman for the division, said Hilltop House’s leadership and staff members were contacted to direct them to complete the self-certification process and to ask about certain practices at the facility.

Billinger did not have the specifics of Nov. 27’s complaint, other than a “client did not feel safe.”

Chris Farley, whose son-in-law is in the Hilltop House program, said the outbreak of COVID-19 cases has complicated and endangered his family.

Farley said Hilltop House officials, trying to reduce the number of residents, put the burden on his family to relocate his son-in-law. Because Farley and his wife are at high risk for the virus, his son-in-law couldn’t stay at their house.

As a result, Farley’s son-in-law is using what money he saved to live in a hotel.

“It just didn’t seem right to me that we should be on the hook for a correction facility’s job they should be doing,” Farley said. “They’re (Hilltop) still collecting their money from corrections for looking over him. Something’s wrong there.”

Hilltop House is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides transitional housing to parolees and criminal offenders who are required to work and earn income while living in the community.

The house is on Avenida del Sol, just west of downtown Durango.