More than 80 patients who were evacuated Wednesday from a Riverside nursing home where multiple coronavirus infections were confirmed were placed at alternate facilities throughout Riverside County after a staffing shortage put the residents at risk.
“Our health care workers nationwide have rightly been called heroes,” county Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser said during a briefing at the County Administrative Center in downtown Riverside.
“But people need to stay at their posts. I am concerned about the level of abandonment.”
Kaiser said one patient in hospice died Wednesday morning, but the death did not appear to be coronavirus-related and was apparently not connected to the evacuation. The remaining 83 patients were almost all out of the facility by 4:30 p.m.
According to Kaiser, staffing issues at the Magnolia Rehabilitation & Nursing Center surfaced on Monday, after a “substantial portion” of the facility workforce did not show up.
Management turned to the county Department of Public Health for assistance, at which point 33 Riverside University Health System and Kaiser Permanente Medical Center licensed vocational and registered nurses were dispatched to fill slots from Monday night through Tuesday, Kaiser said.
The repositioning effort was not possible Wednesday, and the decision was made to temporarily close the facility and relocate all the patients — a process that began soon after daybreak.
According to Kaiser, the neighboring Magnolia Extended Hospital had been under scrutiny since the end of last month after 26 staff members and 28 patients were diagnosed with COVID-19.
Testing then began at the nursing home, where 34 patients and 16 workers were determined to be infected. Kaiser said none of the patients have become acute cases as a result of the virus.
Kaiser said he has asked the California Department of Public Health’s Licensing & Certification Bureau to investigate the circumstances behind the staffing shortage and determine whether there were neglect issues that need to be probed.
The number of employees who did not return to work was not immediately known, but according to RUHS officials, an example of the critically low turnout was reflected in the number of nursing assistants who turned up to work Tuesday — one. Another dozen failed to fill shifts.
According to county Emergency Management Director Bruce Barton, 53 American Medical Response ambulances were wrangled for the evacuation, which was undertaken with the help of Riverside Fire Department personnel, who provided hands-on assistance, and Riverside police officers, who conducted traffic control around the facility.
The largest group of patients — 28 — was taken to the emergency field hospital established at the county Fairgrounds in Indio, according to Barton. Others have been routed to five hospitals in the region, as well as a Manor Care facility within the county, he said.
Like Kaiser, Barton fretted that staffing shortages at skilled nursing facilities and other healthcare establishments may become a growing problem.
“We are in immediate need to serve our most vulnerable patients,” Barton said.
“We need LVNs, RNs, physicians’ assistants to work with COVID-positive patients. We will pay you and provide malpractice (insurance) coverage. We have an amazing team working on this night and day.”
Anyone interested in applying was urged to visit rivcoph.org/coronavirus and click on the volunteer button on the right side of the screen to submit credentials.
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