Coronavirus: California releases incomplete list of assisted living facilities with infections

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By Thomas Peele and Annie Sciacca| Bay Area News Group/Mercury News  | Updated April 22, 2020

PLEASANT HILL, CA – APRIL 21: Carlton Senior Living is photographed along Cleveland Road in Pleasant Hill, Calif., on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)
PLEASANT HILL, CA – APRIL 21: Healthcare workers drop off a person at the Carlton Senior Living along Cleveland Road in Pleasant Hill, Calif., on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

The state released for the first time a list of assisted living facilities late Monday where staff and residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, but it appears far from complete — containing less than two dozen businesses.

The list as of Tuesday afternoon identified only four in the Bay Area, including one in Pleasant Hill with an ongoing outbreak and at least five deaths, but doesn’t mention one in Burlingame where at least two people have died of COVID-19. Overall, the list includes 21 facilities located in five of the state’s 58 counties. It does not include facilities with fewer than seven residents, such as board and care providers. There are more than 7,400 assisted living businesses California.

Officials at the state Department of Social Services, which regulates assisted living facilities and published the list, did not immediately respond to questions Tuesday.

The release occurred after the state Department of Public Health late Friday provided a list of 258 skilled nursing homes that have COVID-19 outbreaks, providing numbers for patients and staff. It did not provide information about deaths.

Gov. Gavin Newsom had announced that the information on assisted living facilities would be released Monday and said it would include deaths.

According to the new information released Tuesday, a total of 91 people in assisted living facilities — including those with a capacity for fewer than seven residents — have died from COVID-19, but it did not break that number down by counties or facilities. The report notes that a total of 856 people have tested positive in all facilities.

The state’s list shows one case in Contra Costa County and three in San Mateo County but has no numbers elsewhere in the Bay Area.

Contra Costa County: Carlton Senior Living (formerly Chateau III), Pleasant Hill: 31 residents, 21 staff. Numbers released by Contra Costa County Tuesday morning put the total cases at 60: 35 residents and 25 staff. At least five residents there have died.

San Mateo County: Atria, Daly City: 13 residents, 12 staff; Abigail Complete Care, Redwood City: fewer than 11 residents, fewer than 11 staff; Sunrise of Burlingame: fewer than 11 residents, fewer than 11 staff.

The report did not specify the exact number of positive tests at facilities where there are fewer than 11 cases.

The absence of well-documented cases is puzzling. Santa Clara County’s online dashboard of COVID-19 cases notes that there are six assisted living facilities with a total of 10 positive cases: three of whom have been hospitalized. But none are listed in the state’s information.

And at Atria Senior Living in Burlingame, at least two residents have died from COVID-19 after five tested positive for the virus in March. That facility is not included on the state’s list.

“We will be working to improve on this document on a flow basis, with data updates likely to be weekly,” department spokesman Scott Murray said in an email.

The state has released the information as the number of infections and deaths among the elderly continue to rise, but access to overall information becomes increasingly muddled around the state.

In Alameda County, the health department told this news organization it would no longer provide updates of infections or deaths at skilled nursing facilities. It had been giving daily updates about a large outbreak at Gateway Rehabilitation and Care Center in Hayward, which has the highest total of know deaths from COVID-19 in the state: 13.

But the county has not updated that number since April 16, when it also reported 68 overall cases at Gateway. When the state health department released its own numbers late Friday, its combined count at Gateway was 102.

That list, like the one for assisted living facilities, is incomplete: state health officials said it covered only a “snapshot” of information reported by nursing homes on a particular day, not a historical count of the cases at all facilities. The health department’s website states the information is based on “the last 24 hours,” but has been updated since April 17.

A spokeswoman for Alameda County’s health department, Neetu Balram, did not immediately respond to questions about whether there was a spike in Gateway’s cases since Thursday, or if the county was undercounting the cases, instead referring queries to the state. A request for an interview with department leaders and the county administrator on Tuesday was not immediately answered.

Balram, in an email late Monday said the county stopped providing the numbers because it feared violating a federal law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA, that mandates the privacy of individual medical records. She did not respond to questions about why the county waited weeks to cite the law and change policy.

David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said the law “is very broadly overused” by public agencies as a way to restrict access to information that should be made public. Snyder said that raw numbers the county had released would be almost impossible to use to determine the name of individual patients and their conditions.

“The baseline rule for HIPAA is individual information,” Snyder said, “HIPAA’s not a magic shield to block all information.”

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