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Elderly stranded in hospitals as nursing homes turn them away over coronavirus

Jack Dolan, Harriet Ryan and Brittny Mejia, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- Carl Schoen's 99-year-old mother has lived in a nursing home for five years. On March 13, she was taken to the emergency room at Huntington Memorial Hospital with pneumonia.

She got better quickly, within a few days, but now the nursing home won't take her back because she can't prove she doesn't have the coronavirus. She got tested 12 days ago but the results aren't back yet.

"They are being very steadfast in saying that until she gets the test result back she can't return," said Schoen, who asked that his mother's name and the name of the care facility in northeast L.A. not be published for fear of alienating her caregivers.

Across the country, hospitals and nursing homes are stuck in similar high-stakes battles over the fate of elderly patients amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Hospitals are desperately trying to discharge patients to clear space for an expected wave of COVID-19 victims. But nursing homes are reluctant to accept any new patients -- or even returning residents -- until it is proven that they are free of the virus.

Dr. Michael Wasserman, medical director at the Eisenberg Village nursing home in Reseda, said he won't accept any patient returning from a hospital until they have two negative coronavirus tests performed 24 hours apart.

 

The extreme vulnerability of elderly residents to the novel virus makes taking a patient who might have the highly contagious pathogen "akin to premeditated murder," he said.

Wasserman pointed to the devastation at the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., site of one of the first COVID-19 outbreaks in the United States. Two-thirds of the residents and 47 workers fell ill, and 35 people died.

"I'm afraid there will be a minimum of 50 more Kirklands in California before this is done," Wasserman said.

Wasserman, a geriatrician for more than 30 years and president of the California Association of Long Term Medicine, has been in touch with state public health officials regarding advice to nursing homes. Their message, he said, has been unclear and shifting.

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