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Kern County protects their skilled nursing facilities during pandemic

“Early in the pandemic, SNF’s were hit hard."
Nursing homes determining how to test residents, staff after Pence recommendation
Posted at 3:28 PM, Jan 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-25 21:26:40-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Protecting those who are most vulnerable. It was the message at the beginning of the pandemic, and the data shows that Kern County listened.

While skilled nursing facilities are primarily regulated by the state, they were hit hard when the pandemic first started.

Data from the Public Health Department found SNF patients made up over 20 percent of hospitalized patients, but after the interventions from the department, they never went past 15 percent and usually stayed around five percent.

In an update to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, those who work with the facilities said the system they've built is working, but there’s still more to be done.

“It is my pleasure to report that compared to the first wave of COVID-19 in Kern County skilled nursing facilities, skilled nursing residents and staff are safer and more protected in all subsequent waves,” said Jared Leavitt, Aspire Healthcare Consulting, LLC.

Immunocompromised, underlying health conditions, and our older population. These are the groups that are most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Many of those individuals reside in skilled nursing facilities, or SNF’s. This is why the county put an extra emphasis on protecting the homes.

The light blue line in the chart below shows cases in the general population and the dark blue line shows cases in the SNFs. You can clearly see the drop.

California Skilled Nursing Facilities

“Early in the pandemic, SNF’s were hit hard with cases rising at a much higher rate than the rest of the community. During the second surge, we saw an increase similar to that of the general population but with a quicker return to pre-surge levels. During the third surge SNF’s did see a slight rise in cases, but never reached anywhere near the levels of the first sage while community rates were nearly as high as the first surge,” said Brynn Carrigan, Director of Kern County Public Health.

- California Department of Public Health

Leavitt, with Aspire Healthcare Consulting, said this is because of the steps the county took with the services.

“The reason for the improved outcomes is multi-faceted. It includes increased availability of personal protective equipment, or PPE, improved training and PPE utilization, and infection control standards. Also, improved staffing levels increased availability of testing resources, a vaccination effort that was very effective, and oversight and accountability from state and county government.”

The state also issued more funding last year for the Ombudsman Program, which works to resolve problems related to the health, safety, welfare, and rights of individuals who live in long-term care facilities.

But SNF Accountability Officer for Kern County, Georgianna Armstrong, said the program still needs more support from the state: “We do believe that increased funding for the program is critically important given the number of programs, number of constituents, the size of Kern County, the Ombudsman Program is running at maximum capacity all the time.”

Leavitt said it’s the swift action that has procured outcomes seen today.

“The insight and progressively creative thinking of this board and the Kern County Public Health officials resulted in aggressive action that protected the very vulnerable population.”

If you want to keep track of skilled nursing facility trends, you can find the COVID breakdown on the California Department of Public Health’s website, which breaks it down by county.