Santa Clara County Homes Fail COVID-19 Inspections

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Three Santa Clara county nursing homes failed recent federal inspections conducted in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, with inspectors faulting the facilities for failing to adhere to standards related to  hand washing and personal protective equipment and patient monitoring, documents obtained by NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit show. 

Almaden Health and Rehab Center and Empress Care Center, both in San Jose, and Camden Postacute Care in Campbell were faulted by federal inspectors in reports issued earlier this month.

At Almaden, inspectors could find “no evidence of process surveillance to ensure staff were being monitored’’ as to hand washing. 

Inspectors noted that the designated infection prevention officer at Empress Care “confirmed she had not been monitoring staff” for compliance with federal regulations designed to prevent outbreaks – including hand washing, use of masks and gowns and monitoring for Covid-19 symptoms.  

The staff of  Camden Postacute, meanwhile,  “failed to ensure all staff were trained on the proper use of PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) and failed to monitor the effectiveness of infection prevention, specifically the surveillance of hand hygiene,” the inspection report found. 

The three homes did not respond to requests for comment on the findings issued the first week of this month. 

So far, the three homes have not shown up of the state’s accounting of Covid-19 stricken nursing homes. Currently, about one out of five homes on average have been hit. Critics say that it is just a matter of time before more homes suffer outbreaks, given the industry track record. “I’ve been calling it a complete recipe for disaster, said Tony Chicotel, a nursing home reform advocate who has criticized the state for lax oversight of homes. 

 “At some point, almost impossible,” Chicotel said. “Nursing homes have just become completely accustomed to not taking infection control very seriously….Now I think we’re reaping what we have sown -- which is a lot of death and tragedy.” 

But at a press briefing last week, Santa Clara County’s assistant public health officer, Elsa Villarino, suggested the homes were not to blame for the outbreaks. “We’re very aware that it’s almost impossible that cases would not have appeared in facilities, but we also know good infection control practices can minimize the spread.”

Dr. Michael Wasserman, present of the California Association of Long-Term Care Medicine, said one way to do that is make the currently part-time infection prevention officers at the state’s nursing homes be full time during the epidemic. The nursing home industry is already short-staffed and scrambling, he said.

“This is a case where we have to tell them what to do in my opinion,” Wasserman said. “The infection preventionists in the nursing homes need to be literally the generals, they need to go around the building” and watch everything going on. “If you see a doctor, not washing his or her hands -- you call him out on it. “ 

Wasserman says that simply emphasizing handwashing, along with and proper use of masks and gloves, will go a long way. “If everyone does that really well, I have actually very little doubt that we can have an impact on this virus.” 

But so far, he says, he hasn’t heard back from the governor’s office on the proposal he floated in March  that the state order infection prevention officers to work full time at all 1,200 of the state’s nursing homes.

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