By T.A. Hendrickson and Emily Jo Wharry
Nursing homes, ground zero for coronavirus cases and deaths in Los Angeles County, will soon come under the scrutiny of an inspector general, a new position created recently by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
The mandate of the inspector general – to determine what must change to improve nursing home conditions, oversight and enforcement – will extend to all skilled nursing facilities in the county. But county officials expressed particular concern over for-profit facilities, which have come to dominate an industry once made up largely of smaller, local, nonprofit operators.
“There is a question whether or not profit motive drives the substandard conditions experienced in some of these facilities,” said County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who proposed the motion for an inspector general with County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
In the Northeast Los Angeles area, for-profit facilities listed by the county as having coronavirus outbreaks include Highland Park Skilled Nursing & Wellness Center, Huntington Healthcare in El Sereno, Kei-Ai Los Angeles Healthcare Center in Lincoln Heights and Montecito Heights Healthcare & Wellness Center.
As of May 31, the hardest hit of those facilities were Kei-Ai and Huntington, according to a running tally by the L.A. County Department of Public Health. Kei-Ai had 59 confirmed cases among residents, 19 among staff and 20 deaths; Huntington had 22 cases among residents, 19 among staff and 12 deaths. Highland Park Skilled Nursing & Wellness Center had one resident case, two staff cases and no deaths, while Montecito Heights Healthcare & Wellness had one resident case, five staff cases and no deaths.
The county supervisors’ focus on for-profit facilities is supported by research cited in the L.A. Times showing that facilities owned by for-profit chains have lower staffing and more regulatory problems than nonprofits. Still, nonprofits, even highly rated ones, have also been hit by the coronavirus. At the nonprofit Ararat Convalescent Home in Eagle Rock, which has an overall five-star Medicare rating – the highest possible — county data show six resident cases, 16 staff cases and three deaths. At the skilled nursing facility at the nonprofit Solheim Senior Community in Eagle Rock – which has an overall four-star rating from Medicare – the tally shows 10 resident cases, 17 staff cases and three deaths.
The Boulevard Sentinel asked all of the facilities mentioned in this article for comment. Only Solheim responded, noting that it provides regular updates on its website about the situation there.
The California Department of Public Health also tracks coronavirus cases and deaths in nursing home facilities, including a “point in time” snapshot of facilities grappling with one or more positive cases in the previous 24 hours. The update on May 29 showed 27 positive cases among residents at Kei-Ai Los Angeles and “less than 11” at Solheim. (To preserve privacy, the state does not report exact figures when cases number 10 or fewer.) There were zero positive cases in the previous 24 hours among residents at Ararat, Highland Park Skilled Nursing & Wellness Center, Huntington Healthcare and Montecito Heights Healthcare & Wellness, an encouraging sign amid bleak circumstances: Countywide, as of May 28, data show that 1,216 residents in institutional settings have died of coronavirus, most of whom lived in nursing homes. That’s more than half of all coronavirus deaths in L.A. County.
Clearly, the new inspector general of nursing homes, to be selected by July 1, has to hit the ground running.