In Kern County, nearly half of the 64 deaths related to COVID-19 have come from skilled nursing facilities according to public health. 23ABC spoke Blanca Castro, the California Advocacy Director with the AARP, a non-profit that focuses on issues affecting the elderly, about what they're asking for from the state and the federal government to ensure the safety of patients and residents.
23ABC: Nearly half of the deaths in Kern County related to COVID-19 come from skilled nursing facilities so it's obviously very bad in Kern County and in the state of California but from an RP's perspective how bad is it and is it gonna get worse before it gets better?
CASTRO: "This reached pandemic and crisis levels in California. There's been 5,600 deaths. Of those deaths, 2,300 were in nursing homes. It's 50% of the deaths that we are already experiencing. It is a significant problem and at this point, we are demanding change. We're demanding change at the federal level and were demanding change at the state level."
23ABC: What specifically do you think led to it getting so out of control within the nursing facilities?
CASTRO: "Well we all know that these are the oldest and most vulnerable. These are individuals who have multiple chronic conditions. Those are some factors. Unfortunately, there were no protocols in place. That means no action plans put in place on things such as washing your hands, wearing masks, wearing gloves, wearing gowns. And then if somebody were positive, quarantined them or separate them from the rest of the residents. Those simple steps were not being taken. It's also the staff. So you have staff who are working in multiple nursing homes. They go home and come back into a nursing home. They may have picked it up in one of their other facilities and then they bring it into one."
23ABC: So what is being done now and has there been anything at all and has there been anything implemented to help stop the spread?
CASTRO: "In California, if your facility of 10 beds or less you're not required to report. So we need to change that. We need every single facility required to report. We want more money for testing. We need to know when people have COVID-19. We need more reporting. And we also are asking for the virtual visitation is simply giving people a phone. Let'em have a telephone. Their own cell phone. Allowing them to do FaceTime and see their loved ones."
23ABC: Nursing facilities that have confirmed positive case is still being allowed to taking new patients. What is your reaction to that?
CASTRO: "So the problem that we have with that is that many nursing homes are receiving more money for a COVID positive patient. That is a program that not only the centers for Medicare and Medicaid have allowed to happen but if the state they were giving up to $1,000 for a COVID positive patient. We have heard some pretty egregious stories with what we call as involuntary transfer. That's a nice way of saying patient dumping, where they're removing people who are healthy without their approval. Not giving families a notification and they are either taking them to a homeless shelter or a board and care facility which do not have the staff, medical staffing, in an otherwise to be able to provide the care of these individuals need. A patient or resident has the right to say I don't want to be transferred. A family has the right to know their loved one is being transferred and has a say in where they would be transferred. And this is happening because the bottom line is 'where are we going to make most of our money?'"
You can see the rest of the interview below: