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Nursing Home Employees at Riverside Stayed HomeYou may have seen the news last week that 84 patients were evacuated from Magnolia Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, a facility in Riverside, CA, after employees failed to show up for two days in a row. The Riverside County Public Health Department ultimately directed that Magnolia residents be moved to other facilities in the county.

Magnolia’s staff stopped showing up once the facility had 34 cases of coronavirus among residents, a whopping 40% infection rate, and five employees also became infected. You might say, who can blame them? If I worked in a facility with such an enormous infection rate, why would I want to risk coming to work and getting infected too? The nurses said that Magnolia didn’t have masks and gloves, which made working there extremely hazardous.

What most people miss in this story is that Magnolia Rehabilitation and Nursing Center got into this mess because the facility was already poorly managed. How do we know that? The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) publishes a monthly list of nursing homes that have serious quality issues – it’s called the Special Focus Facility (“SFF”) Program. To be added to that list, a nursing home has to have twice the average number of deficiencies per inspections, more serious problems than most other nursing homes, and a pattern of serious problems as measured over three years.

If you take a look at the SFF Candidate List (Table F) from the SFF Posting in February 2020, you’ll see that Magnolia was on the list starting eight months ago. It’s not the worst offender, an “honor” that belongs to a facility in Arizona that has spent 69 months on the list, but Magnolia provided sub-standard care for an extended period long before COVID-19.

An SNF has always had a legal duty to have infectious control procedures (ICPs) in place before this and expected to handle other highly contagious infections and should have had sufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on hand well before COVID-19.  Otherwise, how could the facility have handled C-diff cases or any other type of contagious infections as they are required to do under federal; and state regulations?

We would want to know this: Did Magnolia have an adequate supply of masks and gloves as a part of their ICP but ran out? Inventory or purchasing orders would verify that. But what if they didn’t? Then what? What was their ICP?

Should an SNF get away scot-free when their legal obligation to have ICP (which would include masks and gloves) predated COVID-19, but they never had them to begin with?

The news stories show staff saying they did not have protective gear, which is why they did not report to work. You can’t blame them, but you can certainly blame the managers and executives of the nursing home. COVID-19 didn’t create crises like the one at Magnolia; it simply magnified the scope of pre-existing problems brought on by many months of neglect and poor management.

Attorney Wendy York of York Law Firm specializes in prosecuting elder abuse and wrongful death cases.