County approves new protections for skilled nursing homes

New measures approved Tuesday by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors aim to strengthen protections for residents and staff at skilled nursing facilities. Metro Creative photo.
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News Release

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday  to call for comprehensive measures that would strengthen protections for residents and staff at skilled nursing homes, among other congregate settings, who tend to be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

The county Public Health Department has found 312 institutional settings throughout the county with at least one confirmed case of COVID-19. 

“We cannot underestimate the risk that COVID-19 poses to skilled nursing home residents, given their age, physical condition and health status,” 2nd District Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion approved by the supervisors, said in a prepared statement. “We must also take comprehensive precautions to protect the heroic caregivers who work in these settings and then go home to their families. It is critical that we take comprehensive steps – in partnership with the state – to prevent the spread of infection and avoid a surge of patients that could easily overwhelm our health care system.”

“Nursing home residents are among our most vulnerable, and we must take every step to protect their health and safety, and the health of the dedicated providers who are caring for them during this pandemic,” Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of the county Health Services Department, said in the prepared statement.  “It’s critically important that we support these institutions and ensure they are staffed, resourced and equipped to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infection and able to conduct the necessary testing to protect those under their care.”

“We share Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ concern for this vulnerable population, which is being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county Public Health director, said in the statement. “We appreciate the board’s efforts to put measures in place ensuring that essential staff at skilled nursing facilities are properly trained and equipped with the protective equipment they need to remain safe, and support residents who are in great need of continued care. Public Health is working with our agency partners at the state and federal levels to enhance COVID-19 responses within L.A. County’s skilled nursing facilities.”

Ridley-Thomas’ motion called for working with Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health to consider several orders, guidelines and requirements to support the safe and sustained operation of skilled nursing facilities, including:

  • Facilitating expeditious testing for all staff and residents as quickly as possible.
  • Issuing standard protocols for skilled nursing homes to follow when they have a positive case of COVID-19.
  • Requiring adequate staff-to-patient ratios, as well as a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and proper training on COVID-19.
  • Banning retaliation against staff for working at multiple facilities, for advocating for PPEs as a condition of going to work, and for refusing to go to work.
  • Expediting pending licenses for certified nursing assistants.
  • Providing staff with additional pay, including overtime, until the COVID-19 crisis is over, as well as additional paid sick leave days so they can care for themselves or family members who may be infected.
  • Paying facilities an enhanced rate if they care for residents who have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Requiring skilled nursing homes to readmit patients once they are no longer sick, and keep them when they are mildly or moderately ill but do not require hospitalization to avoid overwhelming hospitals.

The county Public Health Department also recognizes the risks in licensed congregate healthcare facilities such as skilled nursing homes and recently issued a health order that includes:

  • Restricting access to such facilities.
  • Requiring diagnostic testing, symptom screenings and temperature checks for staff and residents.
  • Banning visitors and suspending communal dining and other activities.
  • Requiring staff to wear masks and PPEs and follow infection control guidelines.
  • Preventing staff from returning to the facilities if they have tested positive for COVID-19 or are symptomatic.
  • Offering additional shifts to their own employees and maintaining consistent staff to the extent possible.

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