As Coronavirus Spreads, Long-Term Care Homes Brace for Surge

Ambulance staff prepare to transport a patient from the Life Care Center nursing home where some patients have died from COVID-19 in Kirkland, Washington on March 5, 2020. (JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)

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Cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in long-term care homes around the state. Two residents have died, and five have tested positive at Atria Assisted Living in Burlingame. A patient at Silver Oaks Memory Care in Menlo Park also has the virus; so does a staffer at The Forum in Cupertino.

Hundreds of thousands of Californians live in licensed nursing homes and assisted living facilities, in close contact with other patients, residents, staffers and visitors. Under guidance from federal authorities, orders from county health officers, and directives from the governor, facilities are limiting visitors, screening staff, and preparing to accept COVID-19 patients if public officials deem it necessary.

What’s not happening are inspections: The California Department of Public Health suspended in-person visits to nursing homes over a week ago.

“We think they should be out in the facilities every day making sure that the conditions are safe for residents,” said Mike Connors, with the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. “They should be monitoring infection control practices. They should be checking on whether or not the facility has enough staff. And most importantly, they should be talking with the residents who've been shut out from everybody else.”

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Connors says CANHR has been flooded with calls from family members who worry that limits at facilities are isolating patients.

Facility operators acknowledge that as a concern, and they say each day brings new directives from federal, state and local officials that complicate their work further.

Under state law, facilities generally have the right to turn away patients when they feel they lack the resources to care for them; that could soon change. "Hospitalized patients with COVID-19 infection may be medically stable for discharge prior to discontinuation of transmission-based precautions; therefore, [nursing homes] should prepare to accept such residents," according to a directive from state health officials.

“We're already struggling and if we have to add to that yeah, I'm very worried about that,” said Rhonda Bekkedahl, the chief executive officer at Channing House, a Palo Alto retirement community with assisted living. “In terms of what the state could be doing, I mean, we need (personal protective equipment). It's not right to ask these health care workers to handle these situations and not provide them the tools to do so.”

For those who want to help, the California Association of Healthcare Facilities recommends contacting local nursing homes or assisted living facilities.

Bekkedahl says Channing House is accepting donations by phone of personal protective gear,  including masks, gowns and gloves, as well as electronic devices that enable video chats. You can call (650) 327-0950 to make a donation.

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