Coronavirus outbreaks in San Diego County nursing homes hit record for fourth week in a row

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For the fourth week in a row, San Diego County is seeing a record-breaking number of coronavirus outbreaks in its skilled nursing facilities.

County health officials reported this week that there are 60 active outbreaks. Outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities are deemed active when one resident or healthcare worker from the facility tests positive for the coronavirus. That brings the total number of skilled nursing outbreaks since the beginning of the pandemic to 146.

To date, the county reported, a total of 2,548 skilled nursing residents and 1,575 staff have tested positive for the virus and 282 residents and staff have died. Deaths related to skilled nursing facility outbreaks account for about 17% of the the total number of coronavirus-related deaths in the county.

And the post-holiday surge continues.

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This week, the Shores Post-Acute had the greatest number of coronavirus cases among nursing homes countywide.

According to California Department of Public Health data, the Birdland area facility has reported 207 resident and 88 staff cases since the beginning of the pandemic. On Wednesday, there were 140 active cases among residents and 38 active cases among healthcare workers, and by Friday those numbers had changed to 73 and 42, respectively.

In an email Thursday, administrator Joseph Cruz said preventing the virus’ spread was the top priority at the facility, and that staff was collaborating with San Diego County Public Health to ensure that the best infection control practices were in place. Cruz said residents and staff are tested weekly, and its plan to prevent infections was tested and approved by the California Department of Public Health.

With a 305-bed capacity, the Shores is tied with Country Hills Post Acute in El Cajon as the largest skilled nursing facilities in San Diego County and among the largest facilities in the state, California Department of Public Health data show.

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“The facility avoided a widespread COVID outbreak throughout the entire the year of 2020 and was complimented by CDPH on several occasions for its COVID prevention interventions,” Cruz wrote about the Shores. “In December 2020, CDPH performed an infection control mitigation survey and the facility had zero deficiencies.”

In 2020, there were 69 complaints against the Shores filed with CDPH, compared with the statewide average of 21 for facilities of a similar size and type. Of those, investigations found a total of 10 deficiencies, all of which were the second least severe level, meaning no actual harm was caused but there was a potential for more than minimal harm to occur.

During an Oct. 18 inspection, a certified nursing assistant was observed walking in the hallway without a face mask while spraying an air deodorizer, according to the summary statement of deficiencies. When interviewed by the inspector, the nursing assistant said, “I just removed it. Yes, I’m supposed to wear it.” The report also states that according to the Shores May 20 face covering policy, “All staff are required to wear a face mask at all times in the facility.”

News of the outbreak at the Shores was not a surprise to Nancy Kral, a Torrey Highlands resident whose 95-year-old mother, Ruth Palmer, stayed there for a week last month.

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Palmer was admitted to the facility while recovering from a mid-November leg fracture, and soon after her transfer to the facility, Kral received text updates from the Shores reporting a couple of coronavirus cases among staff and residents.

During a video chat with her mother, Kral said she appeared to be in poor health.

“I was horrified by how bad she looked,” Kral said.

Kral asked her brother for help, and they were able to have her transferred to an assisted living facility two days later, where she is receiving home health visits. Although the transfer between facilities went smoothly, Palmer’s dentures were left behind, so Kral had to pick them up from the Shores.

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Upon arrival, she said she found the front desk receptionist maskless and eating lunch as workers walked in and out of the facility making deliveries, despite the safety protocols for visitors and staff to wear both masks and face shields.

Asked to respond to Kral’s experience, Marionne Matusalem, the senior administrator, said the facility strives “to deliver the highest level of dignity and quality of care.”

But, she added, “the facility is not immune to an observation of an area that could be enhanced, but it has the highest commitment to ensuring quality of care is upheld.”

Palmer has not tested positive for the virus, and Kral said she was doing much better immediately after transferring to the assisted living facility, where she has been able to have social-distanced patio visits.

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The spike in cases within San Diego County facilities mirrors what nursing homes are experiencing across the state and throughout the nation as the first round of vaccines are administered to staff and residents.

Mapp writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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