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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

San Diego Nursing Homes With Most Coronavirus Cases Have Long Complaint Records

Speaker 1: 00:00 People in nursing homes have been the most vulnerable to the Corona virus accounting for over 40% of the deaths in California, in San Diego County. The two nursing homes with the most COVID-19 cases have been cited by the state dozens of times, over the last few years for poor care KPBS, investigative reporter Amica Sharma examined the records. Speaker 2: 00:23 We don't know their names or faces, but we have glimpses of their lives at avocado post acute care in Elka home record shows several seniors. There have been abused by staff and by other residents, one older man fell 16 times in one year, at least two mentally impaired people escaped more than 150 drug tablets, belonging to a resident went missing. So did man's dentures. Another man was abandoned midway through a diaper change and left exposed. And one resident's bedsores were left inappropriately treated Speaker 3: 01:01 to me. This screams problems. Speaker 2: 01:03 Brian Lee executive director of families for better care says he's stunned by the breadth of the facility's problems. As of the first week of June, there were 37 complaints filed against avocado this year with the California department of public health, six times the statewide average over the previous three years, more than 400 complaints were filed against the facility. And 84 of those were substantiated by state inspectors. They found evidence of falsified records, abusive residents by staff, inadequate staffing levels and poor infection control avocados problems worsened this spring as of the first week of June 137, residents and staff at avocado have been stricken with COVID-19 by far the highest number for any nursing home in the County. Again, Lee Speaker 3: 02:00 I'd be concerned if I had a loved one in this facility, I'd be deeply concerned. Speaker 2: 02:03 The San Diego County nursing home with the second highest number of cases as of the first week of June 96, among residents and staff is country Hills post acute also in Alka home like avocado complaints against country Hills far exceed the statewide average for the last two years, the facility has been flagged for infection control, broken call lights for residents and hiring workers with a history of abuse and neglect of residents. The inspectors also discovered the facility had no past control plan to deal with mice and insects under a federal five star rating system of a condo is rated as a one star facility. Country Hills has a two star rating. Neither responded to requests for comments from KPBS Sacramento, lawyer, Wendy York, who sues senior care facilities on of families says the volume types and repeated complaints against both avocado and country Hills can only mean regulators are not doing their job. Speaker 2: 03:10 We need to improve our government oversight of the facilities, and we need more transparency. There has to be accountability in an email state health officials say they take every complaint and substantiated violation at nursing homes seriously, but they would not comment on quote, any potential relation between the facilities compliance history and potential COVID-19 outbreaks Debra Hasina director of public affairs for the California association of health care facilities, which represents nursing home says, quote, you can't draw a straight line between complaints and COVID-19 outbreaks experts say the extensive complaint, history of avocado and country Hills ultimately means that residents aren't getting the care they need li of families for better care says it's time for regulators to threaten the nursing homes. Bottom line sanctioned state and federal regulators have find avocado nearly $35,000. In recent years, the state has find country Hills 17,000. Speaker 1: 04:20 Joining me now is KPBS investigative reporter. I meet the Sharma. Meetha welcome. Speaker 2: 04:25 It's good to be with you, Mark. Speaker 1: 04:27 Let's start with avocado post acute care and alcohol. And specifically, what kind of facility is this? And who's cared for there. How many residents on average do they have at a time? Speaker 2: 04:36 Well, it's a skilled nursing facility. So the people who stay there usually have serious acute medical conditions that require care 24 hours a day. And they usually don't have a lot of ability. I know a lot of people tend to lump nursing homes with assisted living facilities, but they really are different people who live in assisted living facilities don't have such serious medical conditions and they basically just need help with dressing and bathing and maybe eating and taking medicine. The administrator at avocado would not speak to us. So in terms of how many residents residents live there at any given time, I just don't know, but I can tell you that on the California department of public health website, avocado is listed as having 256 beds, which is considered relatively a large facility. Speaker 1: 05:32 Your report shows six times the number of complaints that avocado compared with the statewide average so far this year, what are the consequences? If any, for this facility Speaker 2: 05:41 first, I should say, you know, we contacted the California department of health to talk to them about this, to talk about the complaint process, but we weren't given an interview. We do know that in addition to doing their own routine, annual inspections, state inspectors went into avocado to investigate specific complaints. And just in general, if they're able to corroborate complaints, the state will give a nursing facility, a deadline to make the corrections. In the case of avocado, you can see the same types of complaints and corroboration. And so experts say it's obvious that the consequences to avocado haven't been strong enough, or you wouldn't see this happening. Okay. But as you heard in the story, one of the people I interviewed said it is only when you hit a nursing home with sizable financial penalties, that the nursing home will start changing their practices. And based on what we could tell, there were about $35,000 in fines over the last few years. Now there may be other fines that are pending, but they're not made public. If the facility is actually appealing those penalties. Speaker 1: 07:02 Well, let's talk about the public record. The complaints would be on the public record. Can't those looking to refer patients or families looking to place a loved one, easily check the record of a S of a facility. You think the record might be devastating to a business? Speaker 2: 07:16 Yeah. And that's important to know for families, you, you would think it would be devastating to a business why it's not, we don't know at this point, but I can say that it is important to know for families that there are places they can go to look up a facilities background. You can go to the California department of public health website, which is where we did a lot of our research. You can also go to a federal website called a nursing home compare. We also used what they had found, what was available on that website to supplement our research and nursing home compare. We'll actually give you a comparison on how the facility you're looking up, ranks stacked up against other facilities in the area. And in the case of the avocado, it got a much below average rating. Speaker 1: 08:04 Any idea of the monthly cost on average would stay at avocado and does Medicare or private insurance pay, or is that up to the families? Speaker 2: 08:12 Well, no, I can tell you that a stay in nursing homes in California can range anywhere from four to $5,000 a month to $24,000 a month. The U S average for a nursing home stays just over $6,000 a month. And, and it can be funded by either Medicare or private insurance or a combination of both. Speaker 1: 08:34 And the other facility. Also an alcohol country Hills post acute. They actually had an even higher number of COVID-19 cases than avocado, but you're storing notes facilities such as these with high numbers of the complaints. Uh, they don't necessarily have higher case numbers than facilities with far fewer complaints inspectors. Explain why that might be. Speaker 2: 08:54 Well, that perspective came from the California Speaker 1: 08:56 association of health facilities, and that group actually represents nursing homes. What I can tell you is that while the California department of public health, you know, which sends out the state inspectors, they wouldn't comment on that link between complaint history and COGA outbreaks. I have been told by sources that the state actually uses that information, that compliance history to identify which facilities are at highest risk of having COVID outbreaks and with the huge percentage of cases, 40%, as we said occurring in various nursing home facilities, our California state agencies, looking to increase inspections or tightened care rules there during this pandemic experience. Speaker 2: 09:41 Well, that's not known yet, but what I can tell you is one issue that has sparked a ton of criticism of this state is the fact that all routine state and federal inspections of nursing homes have been temporarily halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now base say that they're still investigating incidents at nursing homes, but that they're doing it virtually and advocates for people who have loved ones in nursing homes say that that's simply not good enough because the suspension of these onsite inspections also comes at a time when, when people who live in these facilities don't have their family or their friends coming to visit them either. And families and friends were considered an extra layer of eyes and ears on the ground in those facilities. And so now you take those people away, you take the onsite inspectors away and advocates say, this is just ripe for abuse. It couldn't come at a worse time. Speaker 1: 10:41 I've been speaking with KPBS, investigative reporter, uh, meet the Sharma. Thanks very much, Amelia. Speaker 2: 10:46 Thank you, Mark.

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Advocates for nursing home residents say there’s a connection between poor safety records and the number of COVID-19 cases, and they are calling for more oversight. Meanwhile, industry representatives say there is no correlation.
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