‘Behind the 8-ball:’ Many Southern California nursing homes hit hard by coronavirus had prior issues

Evangelina Gonzalez survived the coronavirus. But she found herself lonely and confused inside her nursing home.

The 98-year-old, who has dementia, had fallen a couple of times at Monterey Palms Health Care Center in the Coachella Valley, her son said. After contracting the virus last spring, she was placed in an isolation wing for six weeks.

“I’ll try to call her and she’s just like, ‘Where are you, where are you? I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, I’m in pain,’” said Gustavo “Sky” Gonzalez of Cathedral City. “It’s heartbreaking.”


Even before the pandemic, Monterey Palms seemed to have high turnover and other staffing issues, he said.

“They were so short that administrators were manning the front desk, helping with maintenance and during the week couldn’t even get anyone at the facility to answer the phones,” Gustavo Gonzalez said.

As of Sept. 11, 18 patients died of COVID-19 at Monterey Palms, a home that had an average of 91 daily residents before the pandemic. That’s roughly a 20% death rate among its residents, though the actual percentage could be higher, according to an analysis of data from Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare database and the California Department of Public Health’s Skilled Nursing Homes COVID-19 database.

The home was one of the hardest hit nursing homes for its population in the Inland Empire and the region. At some facilities in the Los Angeles area, roughly 30% of their residents experienced a COVID-related death.

According to Linda Taetz, president of the Monterey Palms Operating Co. and the compliance officer of the larger chain, Mariner Healthcare, that owns the facility, it’s something of a mystery why some facilities are harder hit than others.

“We just don’t know why,” said Taetz, a registered nurse.

Her company owns 20 facilities in California and has a daily COVID-19 conference call with leadership at each facility.

“We go over everyone’s information. Where was PPE needed? Where was additional staff?” she said. “In other words, we shared everyone else’s best practices.”


Monterey Palms had a three-star or average staffing rating on the Nursing Home Compare five-star rating system before the pandemic.

Most of the hardest hit homes in the region, as to resident deaths for their average daily population, had a below-average rating on staffing, according to a Southern California News Group review of such facilities in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. (Homes designated to receive COVID patients were excluded.)

Staffing shortages have been made even worse by the dangers posed by having staff working in multiple facilities, which had been a common practice before the pandemic.

“The state frowns on saying you absolutely cannot” work in more than one facility, Taetz said. “We do discourage it, to be honest.”

Many factors can contribute to how severely the virus strikes a nursing home, including its location and size. But having enough staff is vital, especially during a pandemic, experts say. New research backs that up.

California nursing homes with total registered nurse staffing levels beneath the recommended minimum standard — 45 minutes per resident a day — before the pandemic were twice as likely to have COVID-19 resident infections, …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Business


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