By Maria Medina

SAN RAFAEL (KPIX 5) — Nursing homes are hotbeds for coronavirus outbreaks, with about a fifth of COVID-19 deaths connected to them. Yet many states including California, are asking the facilities to take care of infected patients in-house. Some nursing homes have set up “COVID wings.”

KPIX 5 talked to a resident inside one of those wings, who told us he fears for his life. “I feel like I was put in prison without being charged with anything, without any due process,” said Steve Petker. “And I was sitting waiting for my guards to kill me.”

ALSO READ: Questions, Fears Surround Bay Area Nursing Homes’ Acceptance Of COVID-19 Patients

Petker talked to us from the privacy of the bathroom at his facility. He’s a resident of the Pine Ridge Care Center in San Rafael. He says the facility sealed off his ward and made it a COVID wing, after he and several other residents were exposed to the virus through a housekeeper that tested positive.

No one is sick yet, but he predicts it won’t be long, since nurse assistants told him they are only issued one gown a day. “That gown’s worn all day long and they are rotating people, they’re cleaning them and people are touching that gown,” said Petker.

In his opinion, “They’ve pretty much guaranteed if there was an active case in this station that most of the station is going to catch it.”

Petker says he asked the staff for masks for protection. “I was told, no, you can’t have masks, they are only for the staff.”

“We’ve been sounding the alarms literally for six weeks,” said Dr. Michael Wasserman, President of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine (CALTCM). “Nursing homes, assisted living and group homes are the accelerators for this virus.”

Wasserman claims the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has allowed nursing homes to set up COVID wards without providing enough expertise. “They are making policy decisions that are getting older adults killed,” he said.

CALTCM just submitted a formal proposal to the governor on how to protect nursing home residents. It calls for, among other things, COVID-19-positive facilities to be run under an incident command structure, with a centralized virtual support center and a full-time infection preventionist in each facility.

“Why are they not using the experts to help inform them on how to fight this?” said Wasserman.

In a statement, the health department said “CDPH has worked closely with Dr. Wasserman from CALCTM and has not rejected his advice, but rather has incorporated some of it into the COVID response work.”

Back at the Pine Ridge Care Center, the day after we notified management, we spotted activity. Technicians from Marin Health and Human Services showed up, donned hazmat suits, set up a table and then started to test residents that were brought one-by-one to the door.

The facility sent us a statement that says, in part: “Our center has implemented federal and state guidelines regarding COVID-19 for the protection of our residents and employees. We are meeting CDC guidelines in providing personal protective equipment to our employees along with our residents when they leave their individual rooms.”

Petker doesn’t think that’s good enough. “State of California, please put the same regulations that you put into hospitals, into these facilities,” said Petker. “Give us some protections, because we have none.”;

The Department of Public Health has posted an updated list of nursing homes that have reported COVID-positive cases.

Currently, facilities don’t have to report coronavirus cases; it’s voluntary. Advocates for residents believe the state should make it mandatory.

A spokesperson for the Pine Ridge Care Center in San Rafael told KPIX 5 the total number of COVID positive cases at the facility is now six. One is a patient, one is shared staff and four are non-shared staff.

Pine Ridge Care Center full statement: 
“Our center has implemented federal and state guidelines regarding COVID-19 for the protection of our residents and employees.  We are working closely with public health authorities as they continue their testing procedures in our center as they are doing in the community at large.  We are meeting CDC guidelines in providing personal protective equipment to our employees along with our residents when they leave their individual rooms.”

CDPH full statement:
We are working closely with skilled nursing facilities across the state, and have received and incorporated input from many advocates, academics, and other experts. CDPH has worked closely with Dr. Wasserman from CalTCM and has not rejected his advice, but rather has incorporated some of it into the COVID response work.  We continue to work collaboratively with CalTCM, as well as with other expert geriatricians across the state.

We also have issued guidance for appropriate infection control practices at SNFs.  Please see https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CHCQ/LCP/Pages/LNCAFL20.aspx

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