By Amita Sharma KPBS, April 6 2020
Advocates for people living in nursing homes say the California Department of Public Health’s decision to stop sending inspectors into those facilities amid the coronavirus pandemic is a mistake that could have deadly consequences
“Who will detect life-threatening infection control problems, which are rampant in nursing homes?” California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform asked in a statement.
“Who will detect dangerous levels of understaffing — a notorious problem in nursing homes in the best of times — when staff are unavailable because of illness, childcare, quarantine or fear? Who will ensure that nursing homes do not admit new residents being pushed out of hospitals when they do not have the staff to serve those who are already there?”
State officials said in a statement to KPBS that all routine state and federal surveys of nursing homes have been temporarily halted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. They said they’re still investigating incidents at the state’s 1,500 nursing homes through “virtual, audio, or electronic methods.”
The nursing home advocacy group argued those methods aren’t good enough given the isolation that residents are living under.
Nursing homes are under lockdown to stop the spread of the virus, meaning family, friends and volunteers can no longer visit residents.
“Residents are completely locked up from everybody else,” said Michael Connors of the nursing home reform group. “Nobody can see them. The ombudsman can’t see them. So it’s incumbent at a time like this, in the midst of a pandemic, for our inspectors to be the public face in those facilities. And to make sure that residents are safe. And right now that’s really not going on.”
The U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services have ordered nursing homes nationwide to postpone routine inspections and focus solely on infection control and urgent cases like stage four bed sores or sepsis.
But Connors said those new federal guidelines issued to control the spread of COVID-19 do not bar onsite visits by state inspectors.
Nursing homes are considered high risk for outbreaks because the elderly are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and they are in close quarters.
The spread of the virus at the Life Care Center nursing home in Washington state is tied to 37 deaths. Hundreds of COVID-19 cases at nursing homes and senior care residential communities have sprung up across the country. San Diego County officials said Friday there are coronavirus outbreaks at eight senior care facilities locally.
A federal survey at nursing homes last week found that 36 percent of the facilities inspected didn’t follow proper hand washing rules And a quarter of nursing homes failed to show they knew how to use personal protective equipment, viewed as vital in stemming infections.
Aired 4/6/20 on KPBS News