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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

San Diego County Won’t Disclose Which Assisted Living Homes Have COVID-19 Cases

 July 22, 2020 at 11:21 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego County has nearly 600 assisted living facilities, but not a lot is publicly known about how they're handling COVID-19. I knew source investigative reporter, Joe Castellano tells the story of a tragic outbreak at one local facility. Betty Gentry was a nurse's assistant in world war II and the Korean war. She was the mother of four children, including two. She adopted, and she was one of three residents in a Chula Vista assisted living home to die from COVID-19 Speaker 2: 00:31 I'm upset that she's gone. Cause I think my mother could have lived over a hundred years old Speaker 1: 00:35 Entry son. Chris said his 94 year old mother was taken from the assisted living home to the hospital in late April with a bad cough during her stay at sharp Tula Vista. He called her to check in. Speaker 2: 00:47 She could, she has a hard of hearing, so she barely could hear me, but at least I, I know for a fact that I said, I told her, I love you. And she said same. That was the last words I heard from my mom. Speaker 1: 00:56 She died a week later from heart failure, pneumonia and COVID-19, she was one of five residents in the home to test positive for the Corona virus. Speaker 2: 01:05 I'm just confident that she's with my dad and that they're together and having, and, and that she's at peace. Speaker 1: 01:10 Despite the three deaths linked to the Tula Vista facility called Ari's home care, there is no way for the public to see how it's been affected by COVID-19 the state. And the County refused to release the names of assisted living homes with fewer than seven beds that have had COVID-19 outbreaks saying they need to protect the health privacy rights of the residents. My view is that this issue of confidentiality is really outrageous. Chris Murphy is the executive director of a San Diego, nonprofit, that advocates for residents at assisted living homes. If I'm a consumer and I have to place my loved one in an assisted living facility, I don't have any way to independently verify on a state website, whether the six bed facility that I'm thinking about has COVID or not. So to not share that information with consumers, women, they have big decisions to make is I think, I think it's irresponsible assisted living homes are run differently than nursing homes. Nursing homes are medical facilities that have healthcare workers on staff at all hours while assisted living homes have aides who help residents with daily tasks. When the pandemic began, these kinds of facilities didn't have proper medical gear or infection control plans, ready to fight the deadly virus, Ari McDaniel, who runs our, his home care gave a new source, a tour of the private rooms in her assisted living home. Speaker 2: 02:39 An idea of the private room. Speaker 1: 02:41 McDaniel said, one of her caregivers contracted the virus from her husband and brought it into the facility before having symptoms. She said she did everything she could to protect her residents from infection, limiting staff hours, keeping out visitors and disinfecting every shopping bag that her workers brought in. I never Speaker 3: 03:00 Went shopping. I never left home. Every single potato orange, every single fact that Speaker 1: 03:08 McDaniel said that publishing data on COVID-19 would stigmatize her facility. People would get the wrong impression that she didn't care. Even though she loved all of her residents, including Betty Gentry, Speaker 3: 03:21 Passe personality, very appreciative, very loving. That was easy to love. Speaker 1: 03:29 Betty's son. Chris said he wishes McDaniel had taken more precautions like checking her staff's temperatures. He hopes his mother's death will lead to more transparency at assisted living homes. So the public can see how many cases they've had and make informed decisions about where to send their loved ones in need of care, Speaker 3: 03:47 Access, information like that, to see how safe the facilities are, because you never know when a situation like this will come back up. Speaker 1: 03:54 Betty Gentry is survived by four children, two grandchildren and six great grandchildren. Speaker 3: 04:00 Joining me is I knew source investigative reporter, Jill Castellano and Jill. Welcome. Speaker 1: 04:06 Thanks so much for having me on give us a clear Speaker 3: 04:09 Idea of the difference between the monitoring and reporting required by nursing homes during the pandemic and how assisted living facilities are monitored. Speaker 1: 04:19 One of the major differences here is that because nursing homes are medical facilities, they accept public insurance like Medicare and medical assisted living facilities because they follow this nonmedical model and they're just eating in daily tasks. They mostly accept private insurance it, and that makes a big difference on how and why they're regulated. So nursing homes are regulated at both the state and the federal level because they're taking that public money assisted living facilities don't so they have a separate agency in the state that handles assisted living facilities. So while nursing homes are monitored at the state and the federal level, they, and they have reporting requirements, they have robust inspections on both levels. Assisted living facilities are only monitored on one level of government, that state level. So that does make a big difference for oversight. Speaker 3: 05:15 Now, the County says it does not want to identify by name, the assisted living facilities that have COVID cases, but do we even know how many Speaker 1: 05:24 These facilities have had cases here? We don't know the exact number of facilities that have had cases, but we can get some insight from the aggregate data that the state releases the County. Again, won't release any information, but the state, we can see the number of cases that have occurred at assisted living facilities by County. So we can see that in San Diego County, at least 202 residents, and 196 staff members at these assisted living facilities have tested positive for COVID-19 and statewide hasn't Speaker 3: 05:58 There recently been a big jump in cases at assisted living homes. Speaker 1: 06:02 We are seeing an escalation in the number of cases in assisted living homes. Over time. As of this week, we just crossed that 5,000 Mark, which means we've had more than 5,000 accumulated cases in assisted living facilities. And we also know there have been at least 539 deaths now, or Speaker 3: 06:22 Family members of COVID patients who've died at these facilities, accusing the facilities of negligence. What are their major complaints? Speaker 1: 06:32 I don't think any of them that I spoke to used words like negligence. I think they're looking back on hindsight and saying, you know, more could have been done here. So for example, in the case of Ari's home care, there were some though they, they put in a lot of, um, efforts to try to help the residents and protect them from the virus. In hindsight, we can see some potential gaps or improvements that could have been made. For example, we know now that the care worker who came in and brought the virus in was asymptomatic. In hindsight, we can say, well, if they had been screened for symptoms and they had been given a temperature check it's possible, they would have had a fever and then they could have been kept out of the facility and nobody would have gotten sick. But at the time the state and the County didn't have any requirements or even recommendations for assisted living facilities to do those kinds of screenings. So a lot of the frustration that I'm hearing more has to do with not the individual facilities, but what is the government doing? How are they helping these facilities that were not prepared for a pandemic like this to get ready and to get the tools that they need to help them combat COVID-19? Speaker 3: 07:45 Well then for instance, after three of its residents died of COVID was the Chula Vista facility that you visited, given any instruction by the state or County about the precautions that needed to take, to be able to keep operating Speaker 1: 08:00 Ari McDaniel told me that, yes, she has received a lot of calls from the state and the County received a lot of guidance. And she basically just said everything they've told me to do, I've been doing. So I contacted both the state and the County and ask them about what did this home need to do to keep operating? And they wouldn't say anything. And they continue to say that this is because we need to protect health, privacy rights. This is information that doesn't need to be disclosed to the public and they won't provide any more details than that. And is there any effort Speaker 3: 08:33 Your way to get more public disclosure of COVID outbreaks in these smaller assisted living facilities? Speaker 1: 08:40 The efforts are coming from people like Chris Murphy, who I included in my story, people who are advocates for assisted living homes and know that this information is really important for the public. As far as I've seen, they haven't made any headway. Unfortunately, Speaker 3: 08:56 I have been speaking with a new source, investigative reporter, Jill Castellano and Jill. Thank you. Thanks so much. I knew source is an independently funded nonprofit partner of KPBS.

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San Diego County has 590 assisted living homes. The county won’t name the homes with COVID-19 cases or deaths. And the state won’t release any information on the homes with six or fewer beds.
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