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Advocates Say Officials Should Identify Nursing Homes With Coronavirus Outbreaks

Signs in front of the Stellar Care senior living facility limiting guests dur...

Photo by Laura McVicker

Above: Signs in front of the Stellar Care senior living facility limiting guests during the COVID-19 pandemic, March 26, 2020.

Advocates for families with loved ones in nursing homes are calling on health officials to be more transparent about coronavirus cases in these facilities.

Specifically, they’re asking for either state officials or counties to disclose the names of the senior care facilities where there have been COVID-19 cases among staff, residents or both.

In San Diego County, officials have refused to release the names of the 20 local senior care facilities that have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks resulting in 182 cases and 22 deaths.

“Without that information, residents and their families can’t make good decisions about whether or not they should be pulled out of the homes,” said Mike Dark, a staff lawyer for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. “That kind of transparency is essential and we are already weeks behind.”

Dark’s push for that information started in March before the number of COVID-19 cases began climbing exponentially at the state’s 1,224 skilled nursing homes. There are now more than 1,200 residents and workers in these facilities statewide who have tested positive. Officials acknowledge that the actual number is likely to be far higher.

Nationwide, senior care facilities have been the site of some of the worst outbreaks. In California, some facilities are in desperate straits, having depleted already meager supplies of masks, gowns and other protective equipment.

Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a series of steps last week to contain the spread of the virus at senior care facilities. Included is a plan to ramp up testing of both staff and residents.

Reported by Amita Sharma

Dark praised the move but said it’s ineffective if health officials aren’t open about the test results.

“What we’re not seeing at the state or even county level is any information going to the public, going to the residents or to their families about when a patient is testing positive for COVID or worse when a healthcare worker is testing positive for COVID,” Dark said.

San Diego County officials cited privacy concerns in their denial of KPBS' request for records.

“We are constantly balancing what information the public needs to know to make informed decisions to protect their health, while at the same time respecting the privacy of individuals who are the subject of infectious disease investigations,” wrote Craig Sturak, communications officer at the county’s Health and Human Services Agency in an email to KPBS.

He reiterated this week that the facilities are free to choose to disclose that information on their own.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County lists on its website the names of all congregate care places including nursing homes, rehab facilities and assisted living communities with at least one confirmed COVID-19 case.

Dark said public safety depends on other counties following Los Angeles County's lead.

“A month ago, the policy rationale for this confidentiality was a desire to avoid stigmatizing these facilities,” Dark said. “We’re long past that now. What we need is to avoid more deaths.”

Listen to this story by Amita Sharma.

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Photo of Amita Sharma

Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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