After pointing out a long list of issues identified in Kern County’s skilled nursing facilities, the Board of Supervisors moved forward Tuesday with a plan to designate an accountability officer who would oversee issues at the state-regulated sites that take care of some of the county’s most vulnerable residents.
Supervisor Mike Maggard initially proposed the plan Tuesday morning as part of the county's Back to Business Ad-Hoc Committee, saying the board would need to officially make the designation at a later meeting.
The designee would have the authority to visit the facilities and make sure they are following regulations, he said.
“And if they are not doing what they should be doing, then we will publicly discuss them by name,” he added, “because it is that vital, not only to the health and lives of those that are in the facilities, but to the rest of Kern County.”
Despite accounting for a small portion of the county’s overall population, skilled nursing facilities have accounted for more than half of all COVID-19 deaths in Kern since the coronavirus began to spread through the community.
While Kern County Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine said only two facilities had given cause for concern so far, he worried outbreaks could happen at all 19 of Kern’s skilled nursing destinations. During Tuesday’s meeting, he brought up issues the county had observed at the facilities, which are largely regulated by the state.
“As we watch how the employees have been trained, it’s insufficient to control this disease,” he said. “As we talk about testing, they have been reluctant, some of the facilities, to test their employees because they were concerned if we found one of their employees were positive, then that employee has to go home and how are they going to staff the facility?”
The county has instituted a team of nurses that travels to various facilities to conduct COVID-19 tests on employees.
Maggard brought up a laundry list of issues the county had identified at various skilled nursing facilities throughout Kern. He said an appalling number of staff members were not showing up for work in some places. At Kingston Healthcare Center — the site of the most widespread outbreak — management was not present at all times. He added that isolation techniques were not properly followed, with workers caring for both sick patients and those who were healthy. Some employees even moonlighted at other facilities, he said, which allows the virus to spread beyond the facility’s walls.
On top of that, he said he had received calls from family members, who were having a hard time learning anything about the conditions in which their loved ones were being kept.
“The governor has put in place requirements that don’t allow anybody to visit,” he said. “The bottom line is, these people are isolated in there and they are terribly vulnerable. It is a nightmare occurring before our very eyes and we need some way to hold it more accountable.”
The county identified Emergency Services Manager Georgianna Armstrong as the likely candidate for the position. She will take on the role in addition to her other duties.
“I personally feel that the situation with our skilled nursing facilities is our most critical aspect of what we’re doing, that and continuing the COVID testing in the community,” Armstrong said during the meeting. “This is a huge job. We will be looking for additional county staff. We will take this task and break it down into lanes and bring people in to focus on those particular issues so we can build a comprehensive picture of what’s going on.”
Later in the meeting, supervisors approved a plan to provide $20 million in federal CARES Act funding to cities within Kern for coronavirus relief.
The money will be distributed based on population, with Bakersfield eligible to receive the most at $13 million. It must be spent on direct coronavirus costs.