The move is part of the state’s plan to deal with an expected surge of patients with COVID-19, the dangerous respiratory illness caused by the virus.
Typically, nursing homes that provide long-term medical care – called qualified nursing homes – accept some patients who leave the hospital because they are equipped with nurses and medical supplies. Other states have already decided to use their nursing home networks, including New York and Massachusetts, where dozens of nursing homes are emptied and converted to COVID-19 treatment centers.
There are over 1,000 qualified nursing facilities in California and more than 200 in the Bay Area.
The California Department of Public Health’s March 30 order states that qualified nursing homes “shall not refuse to admit or re-admit a resident because of their suspected or confirmed COVID-19 status” .
Under pressure from nursing home groups, however, the state health department sought to clarify the order on Thursday. He said nursing homes could still refuse patients if they were unable to follow federal guidelines for the control of coronavirus infections, including having adequate supplies of personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and dresses.
“COVID-19 positive patients can only be transferred to designated qualified nursing homes (SNF) or other facilities that have been prepared,” a department spokesperson said in a statement, noting that the transfers should take place in coordination with local health services. “Some facilities have – or are in the process of preparing – positive portions of COVID-19 only from their facilities with separate staff and supplies to safely care for patients.”
But advocates for residents of nursing homes and doctors who treat them say the new policy could further worsen a dangerous situation.
“Cramming infected patients in overcrowded and understaffed facilities with extremely vulnerable residents is a recipe for disaster,” said Patricia McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, on Wednesday.
Deborah Pacyna, spokesperson for the California Association of Health Facilities, which represents the state’s most qualified nursing homes, said the organization strongly opposed the directive and asked the state to look only to nursing homes as a last resort for COVID-19 patients. .
Pacyna said patients who do not have COVID-19 symptoms can still be transferred from hospitals without confirmatory testing and according to standard procedures, despite the growing recognition that pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic people have likely contributed to the spread the coronavirus. in nursing homes.
“We don’t want to introduce this virus, which attacks the very people we serve, into our facilities,” said Pacyna.
Jan Emerson-Shea, spokesperson for the California Hospital Association, said that the unprecedented situation is forcing hospitals to make tough choices: the least sick must be released to free hospital beds for the most sick. But these people, who may still be recovering and need some medical assistance, still need a place to go.
“There is no easy answer to all of this, and there are concerns on both sides,” said Emerson-Shea. “From a hospital perspective, we need to get people who no longer need acute care to find somewhere else to go.”
The state’s mandate comes as hospitals in California are already seeing huge increases in ICU admissions, and nursing homes are struggling to fight the virus – and lose.
In Kirkland, Washington, the virus passed through a nursing home in February, killing more than 30 people, and in California, nearly 60 patients and staff from a 90-bed nursing home in San County Bernardino have tested positive for the new coronavirus, according to health officials from this county.
In the state’s largest nursing home, the 780-bed Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, 10 staff and two residents have already tested positive. City officials have admitted that they cannot control the epidemic without the help of state and federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Andy Chan, 53, whose mother has been a resident of Laguna Honda for three years, said it would be a “waiting catastrophe” for hospitals to send more infectious patients to retirement homes. Worse, he said, many families are unable to take their loved ones out because they need significant medical care.
“It is an option that we cannot take. There is no way we can provide the services that she now has at home, “said Chan. ” I do not know what to do. “