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Riverside Nursing Facility Evacuated After Staff No-Shows

A patient is evacuated from the Magnolia Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Riverside, Calif., Wednesday, April 8, 2020.
Chris Carlson / AP
A patient is evacuated from the Magnolia Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Riverside, Calif., Wednesday, April 8, 2020.

A skilled nursing facility in Southern California where nearly three dozen residents are infected with the coronavirus was being evacuated Wednesday after staff members failed to show up to care for them.

Eighty-four patients were being moved from the Magnolia Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Riverside after a large number of employees didn’t report for work two days in a row, Riverside County public health officials said.

The county initially sent over nurses to help, but it was forced to evacuate the center as the shortage persisted, said Brooke Federico, a spokeswoman for the county's public health agency.

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The county doesn't know why the employees didn't show, Federico said. A day earlier, the county was notified that five employees and 34 residents at the 90-bed facility had the coronavirus, she said.

No one at the facility could be immediately reached for comment. A message was left on a number listed for the center's administrator.

RELATED: Advocates For Nursing Home Residents Call On State To Resume Onsite Inspections

As the number of coronavirus cases grows in California, skilled nursing facilities are a particular concern because of the age and health conditions of residents and their living in such close proximity to each other. Outbreaks have been reported in facilities throughout the state, and some residents have died.

With so many facilities dealing with outbreaks, the giant Navy hospital ship Mercy docked in Los Angeles could be a location for some residents. The ship was brought to Los Angeles to deal with a potential overflow of hospital patients because of the virus. That hasn’t happened yet, and state Office of Emergency Services spokesman Brian Ferguson said the ship might be a place to house non-acute, non-infected nursing home patients.

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Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said virus cases have been reported in more than 130 institutional settings including skilled nursing facilities and jails, and 37 people living in them have died.

She said earlier this week that there may be instances where residents who are hunkered down under stay-at-home orders might choose to bring their loved ones home from a facility to care for them.

“There are families who in fact have those resources and are able to go ahead and make that offer,” she said. “But I also know there are many families who are faced with the horrible reality that they cannot effectively care for a person in their home either.”

RELATED: Coronavirus Enters San Diego County's Senior Care Facilities

Deborah Pacyna, director of public affairs for the California Association of Health Facilities, said her organization doesn't recommend people remove their loved ones from a facility that is adequately caring for them.

“That’s the best place for them to get the kind of care that they need given their underlying health conditions,” she said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

In Riverside, it was not immediately known which facilities would take the evacuated residents. Those that do will need to follow virus containment measures, Federico said. Residents who are well enough may be sent home, she said.

Those who haven't tested positive for the virus were being transferred first, along with their personal belongings.

At a facility in the San Francisco Bay Area, nearly 50 people have been infected and one person has died. An outbreak at a skilled nursing facility in San Bernardino County infected more than 50 people, killing five.

That outbreak caused staffing challenges as some employees became sick and others stayed away as a precaution because they were in a higher risk category themselves, said Elizabeth Tyler, a spokeswoman for Cedar Mountain Post Acute in Yucaipa, California. Those who tested positive for the virus but didn’t have symptoms were still able to work with virus patients, she said.

The facility set up trailers for staff who didn't want to return home lest they infect their families or wanted to be nearby in case of an emergency at work, she said.

April Verrett, president of Service Employees International Union Local 2015, said her union doesn't represent staff at the Riverside center and only represents about a quarter of the nursing facility workers in the state.

Many are afraid, Verrett said. They want to be adequately trained to care for virus patients and protected, she said.

“Of course they want to make sure their work environment is safe and all precautions are being taken for themselves and their families,” she said. “But our folks are going to work.”

Corrected: July 18, 2024 at 5:47 PM PDT
Associated Press writer John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.