By Jason Pohl, The Sacramento Bee, May 8 2020
Denise Plank visits her father, Ed, 84, through his nursing home window at Fresno’s California Armenian Home nearly everyday. It’s her only way of connecting with her father due to the coronavirus lockdown at the facility. BY Craig Kohlruss
Nearly three months after the first coronavirus cases were confirmed in California, state officials have begun listing the COVID-19 death toll for specific nursing homes, critical information that public health experts and families have been demanding.
At least 186 of the state’s 1,225 nursing homes reported COVID-19-related deaths, the California Department of Public Health said Friday. Twenty-seven of the facilities reported more than 10 fatalities, with the deadliest outbreaks clustered in a handful of facilities in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.
At least 28 residents have died in an outbreak at a facility in Tulare County. The most lethal outbreak in the Sacramento area is at Stollwood Convalescent Hospital in Woodland, where 14 residents and one staff member have died.
Across the country, nursing homes and other assisted-living facilities have been the hardest hit from the coronavirus pandemic, with some places seeing dozens of residents die over the course of just a few weeks.
As of Friday night, 1,033 nursing home residents in California have died of COVID-19-related complications, accounting for 40 percent of the state’s 2,585 deaths. Nursing home residents make up less than 1 percent of the state’s population.
An additional 224 residents of assisted-living facilities have also died, according to the California Department of Social Services. That means residents of long-term care facilities account for 49 percent of California deaths attributed to the disease.
The tally has jumped markedly in recent days due to nursing home reporting changes and is nearly double the count from two weeks ago, when the state began publishing more detailed death data.
The information published Friday morning and revised later in the day now includes deaths that occurred at nursing homes as well as those from other locations, including hospitals or at home, if the person died within two weeks of being transferred from a nursing home.
At least 6,045 nursing home residents in California have contracted COVID-19, including 3,501 current residents, according to the Friday report. An additional 3,682 nursing home employees have tested positive since the pandemic began, and 19 have died.
“The numbers are a tragic reflection of the impact of this deadly virus on those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19; the frail and elderly who populate our nursing homes,” said Deborah Pacyna, spokeswoman for the California Association of Health Facilities, which represents the majority of nursing homes in the state. “Hopefully, increased testing will show where the need is greatest, so resources can be deployed to prevent future outbreaks.”
INFORMATION STILL KEPT SECRET
About 11 percent of facilities — 139 — did not have any information about cases or deaths listed in the state’s data. That omission, advocates say, is concerning because so much of the information is self-reported and voluntary.
California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform in a statement this week called the state’s response “completely unacceptable.”
“The death toll is horrific,” said Mike Connors, a spokesman for the group. “So is the state’s failure to take stronger measures to protect the lives of nursing home residents. State officials are protecting the interests of nursing home operators rather than the residents who are dying in these facilities.”
Connors said, “it’s highly likely that the actual death toll is far higher than what is being reported. When it comes to reporting, nursing homes are on the honor system.”
As of Friday, 899 nursing homes in California reported no COVID-19-related resident deaths.
The owner and operators of nursing homes have come under increasing reporting scrutiny in recent weeks for reportedly failing to provide adequate protection for both residents and employees.
Employees at many facilities say they remain without access to adequate testing and even personal protective equipment, said April Verrett, president of SEIU Local 2015, the union representing long-term care workers.
“Essential workers within these facilities continue to report inconsistent access to PPE and many have shared their struggles with basic access to testing,” Verrett said Friday. “The latest news on infection rates makes it clear that there is more work to be done.”
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services last week announced it would convene an independent commission to investigate how nursing homes have responded to COVID-19 outbreaks. The federal government has also committed to collecting and publishing more detailed information about deadly nursing home outbreaks.
It remains unclear when those details might actually be published.
Note: The data search below is revised as new information is reported by the California Department of Public Health.