huntington healthcare el sereno jesus sanchez 4-17-2020 8-19-41 PM.JPG

Huntington Healthcare in El Sereno has suffered 10 deaths as of April 26, according to statistics from the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

Nearly 60 people have died from COVID-19 at nursing homes across the Eastside as officials scramble to control the outbreak in institutional settings, according to information compiled by county public health officials.

Nursing homes have been a concern since the outbreak began, given the close confines of mostly elderly patients -- who are among the most vulnerable to the virus -- and staff.

About 45% of the county's coronavirus deaths have taken place at nursing homes and other institutions, such as homeless shelters and jails.

The L.A. County Department of Public Health recently began to report the number of deaths at individual skilled nursing centers and other institutions in addition to the confirmed coronavirus cases among patients and employees.

Some Eastside facilities have among the county's highest death counts. Hollywood Premier Healthcare Center, for example, has had 12 COVID-19 deaths while Virgil Convalescent Hospital, also in East Hollywood, has 11 fatalities as of April 27, according to county coronavirus statistics. Meanwhile, the Garden Crest Rehabilitation Center in Silver Lake, has had 10 deaths while Huntington Healthcare in El Sereno reports 10 deaths.

Nearly 500 workers and patients have tested positive for COVID-19 in Eastside nursing homes so far, says the county public health department.

Go here to find the updated figures for all nursing homes and institutional settings tracked by the L.A. County health department.

The health department says that its breakdown of infections and deaths by nursing home "does not suggest neglect or wrongdoing on the part of the facility."

The Eastsider is seeking a response from the Eastside facilities identified by the county.

Public health officials last week imposed additional restrictions and requirements on nursing homes to help slow the spread of the disease, and a few National Guard troops were deployed to assist understaffed homes. One major change was that all patients and workers are to be tested for the virus regardless if they are showing symptoms.

During a Monday briefing, the county's top public health official apologized for not being aware in the early stages of the crisis that people without symptoms could spread the virus.

"Early on in this pandemic, we were all unaware that COVID-19 could be spread by people who were infected but did not have any symptoms, and this unfortunately has resulted in the spread of the virus even where everybody has been doing their very best to implement infection-control measures with the information that we had at the time," Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health said. "So I apologize on behalf of all of us for not knowing enough at the start of this epidemic to take additional steps in our congregate living facilities to make sure we were doing everything possible to protect residents and staff."

The increased testing of all nursing home residents and workers, regardless of symptoms, is scheduled to begin this week and is being done in conjunction with the city of Los Angeles. Ferrer said facilities with the most severe outbreaks will be given top priority, but all of the homes will get the increased tests. 

The continuing increases in cases and deaths in nursing homes prompted the county's health officer to prevent non-essential visitors to such facilities, allowing only essential workers to enter.

All communal dining and activities have been suspended and staff will be required to always wear surgical masks and to use personal protective equipment while residents will also need to wear surgical masks or cloth face coverings when they're outside of their rooms.

L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas authored a motion calling for the county's legislative advocates to work with Gov. Gavin Newsom and state health officials to expedite testing for nursing home staffers and residents, issue standard protocols for dealing with coronavirus cases and set staff-to-patient ratios.

The motion also calls for additional pay, overtime and sick leave for nursing home employees during the crisis and paying a higher rate to workers caring for residents who have tested positive for the virus, among other measures.

Garden Crest Rehabilitation Center

Garden Crest Rehabilitation Center in Silver Lake was identified as a location with 10 deaths by the county health department.

Supervisors Janice Hahn and Sheila Kuehl have co-authored a motion asking the relevant health authorities to quickly detail their plan for expanded testing for nursing homes to the board, and to come up with a way to keep nursing homes from sending patients who don't need hospitalization to acute care hospitals.

The doctor who leads the county's hospital system highlighted the importance of working with state officials to impose additional requirements on nursing homes, which are licensed by the state.

"Without such measures in place, the potential for outbreaks that can overwhelm the county health system remains high," said Dr. Christina Ghaly. "During this period marked by so much uncertainty, we are firm in our commitment to assist our health partners across the continuum of care as we all work together to confront and battle this terrible illness."

As of Monday, at least one COVID-19 case has been reported at 312 institutional settings in the county -- including nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, shelters, jails and prisons, according to Ferrer. There have been 423 deaths in such settings, the vast majority of them at skilled nursing facilities, she said.

Update: The story now reflects the latest county health department statistics as of April 27.

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