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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

Dorsey pointed to a letter the California Department of Public Health sent to all nursing homes on March 20 instructing them to "prepare to care for residents with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection."

That guidance is a "recipe for disaster," said Michael Conners, of the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. "It could expose every resident to infection and death."

Kristen Knapp, a spokeswoman for the Florida Health Care Association., which represents the vast majority of nursing homes in the state, said hospitals are in a tough spot. But her organization is advising members to be "adamant" about the need for tests for returning residents.

"We care for a very vulnerable population, and so our goal is to do everything we can to keep the virus out of the building. We're really focused on that," Knapp said. "If they go out, we're asking that they're tested before they come back."

Not every nursing home in Los Angeles is being so strict.

The Crenshaw Nursing Home sent a resident to the hospital last Friday for a blood transfusion. She came back Saturday. The home did not require a negative test, said Halem Crowe, director of nurses, but made sure the woman had no coronavirus symptoms.


Since Monday, the home hasn't sent anyone to the hospital. If a resident needs an IV or an X-ray, they're getting it at the nursing home, a change made to limit exposure to the coronavirus. "We don't want our residents to get something outside and bring it here," Crowe said.

One veteran ER doctor at a community hospital in the Sacramento area, speaking on the condition that his name not be used, said his hospital is being inundated with nursing home residents with minor cold symptoms.

"They cough a few times and they get sent," he said. And then administrators at the homes refuse to let the patients return without a negative coronavirus test, a process that can take about a week at his hospital, he said.

"They aren't ill enough to need to be in a hospital," said the doctor, who called the patients "a massive drain" at a time when hospital staffers are girding for a wave of life-and-death coronavirus cases.


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