Coronavirus: Deaths hit Oakland nursing home with COVID-19 outbreak, county now has one of the largest clusters in the Bay Area

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By Thomas Peele and Annie Sciacca | Bay Area News Group | Updated April 24, 2020

Deaths at Excell Healthcare Center adds to a grim toll in Alameda County nursing homes

OAKLAND –In a sign that COVID-19 continues to prey on society’s most vulnerable, three patients in an Oakland nursing home have died, and 50 others have contracted the virus, comprising one of the largest clusters in the East Bay.

“Sadly, there have been three deaths related to COVID-19” at the Excell Health Care Center on High Street, said Annaliese Impink, a spokesperson for the 99-bed facility, in an email Thursday. She confirmed that 33 other patients and 17 employees have tested positive for coronavirus.

The three deaths at the Oakland facility add to an already grim toll at nursing homes in Alameda County. At least 13 people have died at Gateway Rehabilitation and Care Center in Hayward, and two patients have died at East Bay Post-Acute in Castro Valley. Combined, those three homes have more than 200 coronavirus infections of staff and patients, according to the most recent numbers available.

“Our absolute top priority is the safety and care of our residents, and we are taking immense measures to safeguard those who are not infected, and isolate and treat those who are,” Impink wrote.

As people stay at home to stop the spread of COVID-19, the virus is making its deadly path through nursing homes filled with sick and elderly residents and patients.

A week ago the state health department released a list of 258 skilled nursing homes with at least one infection, but the data, which did not provide the number of deaths, was far from complete. For example, the list showed fewer than 11 positive cases among patients and staff at Excell.

Since then, the Alameda County Health Department has refused to provide updates on the number of deaths in those homes. The department’s spokesperson, Neetu Balram, did not respond to questions about Excell on Thursday, and questions sent to the county’s emergency operations email address were not returned. County Administrator Susan Muranishi also did not respond to a message.

The state health department has not responded to repeated requests for current numbers. A spokesperson for the department wrote in an email that updates would have to wait until all data was updated but did not say when that would happen.

“It’s astonishing that, at this stage of the pandemic, state and county health authorities are flying blind,” said Mike Dark, a lawyer with California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, a watchdog group. “Both sets of regulators are hobbled by the fact that they rely entirely on self-reporting by facilities. Not surprisingly, nursing homes aren’t giving them the data — it’s bad for business.

“It’s not clear whose interests these counties think they are protecting,” Dark said. “County health departments should start looking out for the public that they serve.”

According to state health department records as of April 17, Excell Health Center had a cumulative 35 deficiencies found by inspectors between 2017 and the first quarter of 2020, although it remained mostly below the statewide average for facilities of its size in each of those years. Last year state health inspectors found the facility failed to ensure an infection control and prevention program was followed for two of 18 sampled residents, including employees not washing or sanitizing hands before certain procedures and failing to keep a catheter bag from touching the floor.

The owners of the Gateway facility in Hayward, which has one of the biggest outbreaks in the state, have a long history across several homes of providing poor care. They have been denied licenses to take over homes five times and were ordered to close a home in Sonoma County in 2018. Among the reasons for the closure was a documented history of failing to stop the spread of the flu and norovirus in the facility.

Also this week, Mission Local reported that four people have died at the Central Gardens nursing home in San Francisco, and 67 patients and staff have tested positive for the virus. Earlier this month, at least 19 people at the city’s largest nursing home, Laguna Honda Hospital, tested positive for the coronavirus, although it is unknown if that figure has changed.

Elsewhere in San Francisco, a letter obtained by this news organization that had been sent to residents of San Francisco Towers shows at least two patients there have tested positive for the virus. The letter, dated April 20, says one patient was hospitalized last week and is in critical but stable condition. The second patient was also hospitalized but described as “largely asymptomatic.”

The facility has both skilled nursing and assisted living sections. The letter said all patients in its skilled nursing section are now being tested for coronavirus.

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