By Megan Cassidy, San Francisco Chronicle, April 15, 2020
The Alameda County district attorney’s office is investigating a Hayward skilled nursing facility where 13 residents have died after contracting the coronavirus and 54 other people have been infected.
Gateway Care & Rehabilitation Center has come under blistering scrutiny over the past week amid reports of understaffed nursing, symptomatic employees being pressured to report to work and families being left in the dark about about the severity of the outbreak.
Civil rights attorneys John Burris and Adante Pointer, who represent the family of one of the victims, called for a criminal investigation on Monday into the center and have filed a complaint with the state Department of Public Health. If the allegations against Gateway are true, they said, their actions could amount to elder abuse.
“Excellent, I’m glad they’re doing it,” Burris said on Wednesday when told of the district attorney’s investigation. “I think it’s important to get to the bottom of this; determine whether these deaths of people are the result of malfeasance or misconduct as opposed to natural (deaths).
Teresa Drenick, a spokeswoman with the district attorney’s office, said she could not comment on the details of the investigation and would not confirm whether it was criminal in nature. She said the office initiated the probe prior to Burris’ media statements on Monday, in which he specifically implored them to do so.
Even as coronavirus outbreaks have swept through vulnerable communities in more than a dozen Bay Area nursing homes and assisted living centers, Gateway has emerged as a deadly outlier. None of the other facilities tracked by The Chronicle had experienced more than two coronavirus deaths as of this weekend, when Gateway had recorded nine.
By Wednesday, the death toll climbed to 13. Of the 54 people infected at Gateway, 26 are staff members and 28 are residents, public health officials said Wednesday.
The Chronicle was unable to reach Antony and Prema Thekkek, who have owned the Hayward facility since 2003.
Jaime Patiño, a Union City councilman whose grandmother, Emma Patiño, was one of the victims, said he believes a lawsuit or criminal investigation will be necessary to answer all of his family’s questions about her death.
Emma Patiño, 84, was taken to the hospital on Friday and died Monday evening at Kaiser Permanente in San Leandro. During her four-day stint there, doctors at Kaiser discovered a battery of serious ailments that suggested she should have been transported much earlier, Jaime Patiño said.
She had pneumonia, her kidneys were beginning to fail, she had septic shock and her heart was working overtime.
Jaime Patiño said his family wants to see his grandmother’s medical charts from Gateway.
“They had to know something was going on … days before she went to the hospital,” Jaime Patiño said.
Family of another Gateway resident who died told reporters they were troubled by reports of understaffed nursing and employees who failed to use personal protective equipment like masks and gloves.
Diane Akrie, the widow of Costell Akrie, said the family believes he contracted the virus from a staff member, since he had a room to himself. Akrie’s family said an employee acknowledged that staffers had not been tested, and that several were staying at home because they were symptomatic or afraid of becoming infected.
The remaining staff members were left to treat 25 to 35 patients each, Diane Akrie said.
“At no time did we ever see the staff wear masks, before and after the outbreak,” she said.
Guadalupe Tafolla, the husband of a nursing assistant at Gateway, told a Chronicle reporter last week that his wife was at home sick, had tested positive for the virus, and had still been pressured by the nursing home’s management to report to work.
When Tafolla told a manager his wife wouldn’t be coming to work, the manager said “she has to come back to work, or she’s quitting,” Tafolla recalled.
The Hayward facility has a record of violations, according to the California Department of Public Health, including 25 federal violations last year. The facility was fined $1,000 last year for failing to supervise a resident who fell to the floor while using the bathroom, breaking her hand and sustaining multiple bruises, according to a state report.
In an inspection report filed last August, officials found that, at least twice, a resident was not administered a prescribed antibiotic on schedule because no registered nurse was on duty. The inspector also observed three wash basins full of used disposable needles in an unlocked utility room, according to the report, violating an infection-control protocol that requires staff to dispose of certain items in designated, closed containers.
Jaime Patiño said he hopes the county investigation will lead to accountability.