Critical errors in California nursing homes led to COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths among residents and staff

California nursing homes hit hard by coronavirus (COVID-19) cases among residents and staff have been less than transparent in reporting known cases and deaths.  Many also failed to adequately protect staff and residents from exposure to COVID-19.

A recent public outcry by families of residents and staff working in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities who’ve contracted COVID-19 led the way in obtaining accurate information by demanding greater transparency in reporting cases and deaths.

On April 11th, nearly three months after the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the state, California Department of Public Health officials revealed the names of nursing homes across California with COVID-19 outbreaks. Included in their reporting were the numbers of people affected in each facility.  Statewide totals for staff and residents showed 1,290 staff and 1,740 patients contracted COVID-19 with 86% of the state’s 1,224 skilled-nursing facilities reporting data: in total, 261 skilled nursing facilities across the state reported.

More than half of the homes on the state’s list, 148, were in Los Angeles County. The official list from the California Department of Public Health has been cited for omissions and undercounts. In some cases, the numbers on the state’s list appear to be out-of-date.

Total deaths were not included in the data shown by the department of public health though presumed dead in nursing facilities account for a large percentage of the state’s total deaths from the pandemic.

According to Governor Gavin Newsom, 3,500 people are infected at California nursing homes. Statewide, 30,000 Californians have been infected with 1,149 deaths from COVID-19 as of

April 18th.  In Los Angeles County, more than 30% of those who have died from COVID-19 were residents of long-term care facilities.

 

It’s commonly known that nursing homes have been tragically hit by this outbreak yet information on the status of residents has been nearly impossible for families to obtain.  Elderly nursing home residents, many of whom have underlying health conditions, account for a large percentage of COVID-19 deaths across the country.

Some families have been informed of the death of a loved one by phone; some, had no knowledge that a family member had contracted the virus prior to hearing of their death. Regulations prohibiting family members from visiting loved ones in skilled nursing facilities have resulted in far greater concern and hardship for families than we believe is acceptable.

State and local governments have been slow to inform the public of the situation inside nursing homes including a resistance to or limited testing, shortages of protective personal equipment (PPE), staff shortages and more. A lack of reporting to families, local and state governments, and the CDC, resulted in deadly conditions inside several of these facilities.

Our public agencies and several administrations and owners of long-term care facilities did not fulfill their responsibility to their residents and staff. Information on conditions in nursing homes came primarily from private sources prior to the state health department’s reporting. Relatives, staff and at times, administrators themselves expressed concern in facilities about a lack of testing supplies, an unwillingness to test for fear of bad publicity, and lack of reporting.

Michael Connors, a spokesman for the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform said, “The state’s list was long overdue.” Connors added, “All of its numbers are highly suspect because there is so little testing going on in long-term care facilities and no reason to believe that facilities are accurately reporting information on outbreaks and deaths.”

As reported in the Los Angeles Times on April 18th, among the hardest hit nursing facilities in Los Angeles have been the Brier Oak on Sunset nursing home in Los Angeles, where 80 residents and 62 staff members tested positive, according to the state. The Country Villa South Convalescent Center in Palms had 58 patients and 15 staff test positive, and the Garden Crest Rehabilitation Center in Silver Lake had 35 patients and 35 staff test positive.

The practice of California’s state and local governments to be selective about what information they provide about the coronavirus crisis has led to a higher number of infections and deaths in long-term care facilities.

The state’s list under-reported one of the most devastating outbreaks in California at Redwood Springs Health Care in Tulare County listing 91 residents and 46 staff members infected. Recent figures obtained by the Los Angeles Times on April 16th found actual numbers were 106 residents and 50 staff. The facility reported 10 residents died after testing positive.

San Francisco Bay Area prosecutors have since opened an investigation into the Gateway Care and Rehabilitation Center in Hayward, where 13 people died. Forty-one residents and 26 staff members there tested positive.

According to a recent article in the LA Times, a nursing assistant at Brier Oak on Sunset, who asked that her name not be used because she isn’t authorized to speak to media, told a Times reporter that the administration at Brier Oak discouraged staff from wearing protective masks for most of the month of March. She is among dozens of staffers at Brier Oak testing positive for the virus.

Reports have surfaced of administrators at nursing homes refusing requests by doctors to test residents for COVID-19. One staffer told a doctor that the facility’s administration wasn’t allowing anyone in the facility to be tested. Although the doctor reported this situation to the LA County Health Department, concerned citizens are left to wonder how widespread practices such as these truly are.

Testing of asymptomatic or symptomatic staff and residents is an important measure to protect everyone in a long-term care facility. So many staff members have become ill with COVID-19 that replacements are needed to fill positions.  Some staff are refusing to report after outbreaks.

A 20-year old night shift worker in a California long-term care facility died this month after contracting COVID-19.  Her uncle went on record to say he believes not enough is being done to protect long-term care workers. More than 40% of cases reported on the California Public Health Department’s list have been among nursing home staff.

April Verrett, president of SEIU Local 2015, representing about 20,000 nursing home and healthcare workers statewide, was quoted as saying, “I knew the conditions our members were working under were leading to a high number of infections, we just have not had the data to support it until now.”

Settings such as nursing homes are at very high risk for COVID-19 and administrators and public agencies are failing to adequately safeguard this population and fully inform families of the risks.

While we are being encouraged to maintain social distancing and to stay at home, residents of skilled nursing facilities often do not have these same options. Shared rooms and common halls, close contact with care staff and shared dining facilities prevent the same safeguards put in place to protect citizens of our state.

While these facilities have taken some measures as of March to limit the spread; instituting temperature checks for staff, asking workers to complete a questionnaire before a shift, these measures have proved inadequate to protect residents of long-tern care: older adults and people with existing health problems for whom COVID-19 can be prove life-threatening.

If you or someone you know has experienced harm as a result of a nursing home’s failure to take the proper precautions regarding COVID-19, please call our law firm for a free consultation at 877.529.3707.

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