By Amita Sharma, KPBS, April 23, 2020
State officials say 91 residents and staff at California’s senior assisted living facilities have died from the coronavirus.
The deaths are among the 856 confirmed COVID-19 cases at the facilities, according to a newly published list by the California Department of Social Services.
California is home to more than 7,000 assisted living communities, with 582 in San Diego County.
The state says 21 of those facilities had 11 or more residents and workers with COVID-19, as of April 19.
San Diego’s assisted living communities have a total of 67 cases, according to the state data.
The state’s list names three San Diego facilities — La Vida Real, Stellar Care and Elmcroft of La Mesa — with more than 11 COVID-19 cases among residents and workers.
KPBS has also confirmed that there are cases at Oakmont of Pacific Beach. However, that facility does not appear on the state’s list, likely because it has fewer than 11 cases.
The state does not list facilities with 10 or fewer cases due to privacy guidelines.
“Facilities that reported fewer than eleven COVID-19 positive cases for residents and staff were not included on the list in order to prevent re-identification of those residents and staff,” said Scott Murray, a spokesman for the department of social services. “The number eleven represents a threshold at which it is statistically unlikely an individual can be re-identified from available information. The facilities that are on the list have a combined total of eleven or more.”
California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform contend the department of social services is underreporting the true spread of the disease among vulnerable seniors and caregivers by leaving out assisted living facilities that don’t meet their statistical threshold.
“The public deserves much better than a partial list that excludes so many facilities known to have COVID-19 outbreaks,” said Michael Connors. “The many omissions suggest that the state does not have a good system to track outbreaks, much less respond to them.”
Late last week, the California Department of Public Health revealed that 261 skilled nursing facilities statewide had reported cases of COVID-19 as of April 17, 11 of which are in San Diego County.
The state’s current list of 1,740 residents and 1,290 workers who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 inside skilled nursing facilities is also almost certainly an undercount.
“California has no system to ensure that nursing homes are reporting outbreaks as required,” said California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform in a statement.
For example, the state’s list does not include Riverside’s Magnolia Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, which recently evacuated 83 of its residents because of a major outbreak.
Another issue is many nursing homes may still not know they have infected people onsite due to a lack of testing.
Finally, there are still no official numbers on how many of the state’s coronavirus deaths are linked to California nursing homes.
“The state is not including fatality data for skilled nursing facilities at this time,” read an email from the state Department of Public Health’s press office. “We do plan to release facility death data for skilled nursing facilities in the future.”
State health officials would not say when.