83 patients evacuated from Riverside skilled nursing home after coronavirus outbreak

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By Jeff Horseman | jhorseman@scng.com | The Press-Enterprise April 8, 2020

A patient at the Magnolia Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Riverside is evacuated to a waiting ambulance Wednesday morning April 8, 2020. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Eighty-three patients in a Riverside skilled nursing facility were evacuated Wednesday, April 8, after employees of the facility with confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus did not show up to care for sick patients two days in a row, Riverside County officials said.

Residents of Magnolia Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, on Magnolia Avenue near Adams Street, were moved to other locations across Riverside County, a county public health news release stated.

Just one certified nursing assistant out of 13 scheduled to work showed up at Magnolia Rehabilitation, forcing the county-run Riverside University Health System and Kaiser Permanente to send 33 licensed vocational nurses and registered nurses to the center, the release read.

At a Wednesday afternoon news conference in Riverside, Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the county’s public health officer, said he learned Friday, April 3, of two center employees testing positive for COVID-19. Before that, the county was investigating COVID-19 cases next door at Extended Care Hospital of Riverside, which county spokeswoman Brooke Federico said has a different owner than Magnolia Rehabilitation.

Riverside County Health Dept. spokesman Jose Arballo speaks to the media at the site of a critical care nursing facility in Riverside where more than 80 patients are being evacuated because the nursing staff failed to show up for work on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
Multiple emergency agencies and 40 ambulances prepare to evacuate 84 patients from a critical care nursing facility in Riverside on Wednesday, April 8, 2020, after most of the staff failed to show up for work. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Riverside County Health Dept. spokesman Jose Arballo speaks to the media at the site of a critical care nursing facility in Riverside where more than 80 patients are being evacuated because the nursing staff failed to show up for work on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

To date, 26 staff members at Extended Care have tested positive for the virus, with 48 testing negative and 28 employee tests pending, Kaiser said. Twenty-eight patients tested positive and 58 were negative, he said.

At Magnolia Rehabilitation, 16 staff members have tested positive so far, six were negative and 130 employee tests are pending, Kaiser said. Thirty-four center patients tested positive and 47 tested negative, he added.

On Monday, Kaiser said he learned of a large staffing request by Magnolia Rehabilitation that was considered “unusual.” The center reported that a “substantial” portion of staff were not reporting to work, he said.

Because the center could not sufficiently staff Wednesday’s day shift, Kaiser said he used his emergency authority to evacuate the facility “to safeguard the well being of residents and ensure an appropriate continuity of care.”

“Nationwide, all of our health care workers are considered heroes and they rightly are,” Kaiser said. “They are the first line of defense in our hospitals, our clinics, our laboratories, our pharmacies and our long-term facilities. But implicit in that heroism is that people stay at their post.”

He added: “I am concerned this could rise to the level of abandonment, no matter how justified the reasoning might be, and the state licensing board will have to determine (that).”

One patient on hospice died Wednesday morning before being transported, Kaiser said, adding the on-site physician believes the patient’s death was imminent because of previously existing medical issues.

At least 15 center patients were taken to a Palm Desert skilled nursing facility, seven to Riverside University Health System – Medical Center in Moreno Valley, five to local hospitals and 28 to a special field hospital at the county fairgrounds in Indio, said Bruce Barton, county emergency management director.

Riverside county spokesman speaks about moving over 80 patients from a nursing and rehabilitation facility after many nurses did not show up for work for the second night in a row

Patients were still waiting to be transported from the center late Wednesday afternoon, he said. Fifty-three ambulances were used in the evacuation, Barton added.

Kaiser said he didn’t know exactly how many center employees failed to show for work, or whether their actions could lead to criminal charges. Kaiser added he was not aware of any issues employees might have had getting personal protective equipment to work in the center.

California Magnolia Convalescent Hospital Inc. owns Magnolia Rehabilitation and the center has an active license, according to the state Department of Public Health. Secretary of State records list Larry Joe Mays as the company’s president.

A voicemail left at a cell phone number listed for Mays was not returned. Kimberly Richards, listed in state business records as a member of the company’s board of directors, declined to comment Wednesday.

The skilled nursing facilities receiving Magnolia Rehabilitation patients will be closed off to new patients, according to the county. Also, staff at those facilities will not be allowed to work elsewhere, sick patients will be isolated, all employees will use personal protective equipment and staff will closely monitor patients.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the county had 1,179 confirmed coronavirus cases and 32 deaths. It’s not clear whether the Magnolia Rehabilitation cases are part of that total or need to be added to the county’s case numbers.

Family members can call 951-358-5134 to check the status of loved ones at Magnolia Rehabilitation.

This is the latest outbreak of the virus at a Riverside County nursing home. Besides Extended Care, a former resident of a skilled nursing home in Rancho Mirage contracted the virus and later died and a vendor who did contract work at the facility also tested positive.

On Tuesday, Kaiser warned of a surge in COVID-19 cases in the county’s long-term care and skilled nursing facilities.

In neighboring San Bernardino County, nursing facilities also have seen many cases.

Seventy-five residents and employees at Cedar Mountain Post-Acute Rehabilitation in Yucaipa tested positive for the coronavirus. And eight residents and seven employees tested positive at Reche Canyon Rehabilitation & Health Care Center in Colton. Five residents of the Yucaipa facility and one at the Colton facility have died.

San Bernardino County officials created a task force and issued new orders to slow the spread of COVID-19 at the 171 state licensed nursing facilities across the county.

Staff photographer Will Lester contributed to this report.