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New Inspector General Will Focus On LA County Nursing Homes

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A sign outside of the Kingsley Manor Retirement Community notes that visitors are not allowed unless medically necessary. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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Los Angeles County will soon have an inspector general to oversee nursing homes.

The new role, approved unanimously by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, is meant to address what many see as a failure to react quickly to COVID-19, which has taken a heavy toll on nursing home staff and residents.


READ OUR SPECIAL REPORT: LA's Nursing Homes Serving Black And Brown Patients Are Hardest Hit By Coronavirus. What's Going On?

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Congregate living facilities account for more than half of the county’s COVID-19 deaths.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who coauthored the motion, said the inspector general would conduct “an extensive review of the county’s capacity to regulate these facilities, recommend structural and operational changes, and outline a plan for ensuring adequate and sustainable oversight.”

The inspector general has to be selected by July 1, and should begin working on a report on how to improve the county’s monitoring and oversight.

COUNTY'S RESPONSE TO NURSING HOME OUTBREAKS

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The county has required nursing homes to test all their residents and staff for the coronavirus, regardless of symptoms, since mid-April.

But during a discussion at the board meeting, Supervisor Katherine Barger, who coauthored the inspector general motion, was critical of the public health department’s efforts to test.

“I’m not convinced that we are in these facilities doing appropriate testing because I’ve talked to a few who have said that there’s been little outreach and they are not clear on how to go about getting the testing done at the rate that at least this board expected it to be done,” she said.

Barger also said the inspector general should report directly to the board or to the county CEO, rather than county public health authorities "given how egregious some of the stories have been and the need to be independent."

L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer defended her department's work toward universal testing at nursing homes while acknowledging there had been some missteps.

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“It’s been very challenging,” she said.

Ferrer told board members that nursing home deaths from COVID-19 have decreased because of infection control efforts like requiring masks to be worn by both nursing home staff and residents.

“The last week in April we averaged 174 deaths among people living in skilled nursing facilities. And this last week that ended on May 23, we had 60 deaths in skilled nursing facilities,” she said.

KEY OVERSIGHT MISSING DURING THE PANDEMIC

L.A. already has a nursing home ombudsman, but that person has been unable to visit homes during the pandemic.

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Families of nursing home residents also haven’t been able to visit their loved ones for months due to COVID-19 restrictions. Many have complained about the lack of information being provided to them by nursing home administrators.

To address this, the motion passed Tuesday also calls for a new dashboard on the county’s website with information about each nursing home’s total COVID-19 cases, testing frequency, number of deaths broken out by residents and staff members, and the status of the home's outbreak mitigation plan.

READ MORE OF OUR REPORTING ON NURSING HOMES:

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