LA County Taps Max Huntsman To Help Solve The Deadly Coronavirus Situation At Nursing Homes

Max Huntsman is a former prosecutor who became L.A. County's Inspector General and is now tasked with overseeing nursing homes that are at the epicenter of the pandemic. (Photo by Mel Melcon-Pool/Getty Images)

Max Huntsman has already squared off against Sheriff Alex Villanueva as Los Angeles County's first-ever inspector general, overseeing accountability for both the sheriff's and probation departments. Huntsman was tasked with the job of cleaning up the department after allegations of widespread abuse in L.A. County jails.

Now, Huntsman will investigate how to strengthen oversight for skilled nursing home facilities, which have seen the majority of the county's coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began. The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on May 26 to create that role, and they're looking to Huntsman to fill it on an interim basis, until they can make a final selection.

"Max is strategic and engaged and has the experience we need to bring much-needed accountability to the County's skilled nursing homes," said Celia Zavala, executive officer of the Board of Supervisors, in a written statement.

As inspector general, a job he's held since 2013, Huntsman has frequently come into conflict with Villanueva, who he says has routinely resisted oversight. In one report, Huntsman wrote that the sheriff has "delayed, hindered, ignored and in some cases denied outright" the inspector general's requests for information.

With renewed scrutiny of police violence nationally following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the tension remains. Huntsman says the sheriff is refusing to share evidence from the recent deaths of Andres Guardado and Terron Boone, who were both shot and killed by deputies.

In addition to his oversight of the sheriff's department, Huntsman is now tasked with digging into the level of care at the county's skilled nursing homes. Both the state and the county have come under fire for a policy that encourages these facilities to take on COVID-19 patients, despite the risk to elderly patients. Older people with underlying conditions are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The county acknowledged in its statement that many local skilled nursing homes have historically received low marks for quality of care, patient satisfaction and employee pay.

"I am in strong support of the Board's desire to do everything we can to improve nursing home care," Huntsman said.

The county says Huntsman will start by reviewing its current oversight mechanisms for skilled nursing facilities. He's expected to provide an initial plan of action by Aug. 1 and provide updates every 60 days until a final report is completed.

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Emily Elena Dugdale contributed to this story.