SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- The coronavirus deaths in Washington State are bringing nursing home care into sharp focus, especially considering four of the six people who have died from the virus in the U.S. were patients at the Lifeland Center in Kirkland, Washington, a nursing facility.
"It's shocking because it means that many more people could die because probably the staff of that nursing home and many of the residents have been exposed," said Charlene Harrington, PhD, Professor Emeritus at the UCSF School of Nursing.
Harrington has studied nursing homes for four decades. The fact is that the facilities are dealing with a deadly combination: patients who often have compromised immune systems are living closely together.
Also, Harrington said privately owned nursing homes are notorious for cutting staff and having lesser-trained folks working directly with patients.
"It's a disaster. It's hard to see how it's going to be stopped," Harrington said. "When you don't have enough staff, they're rushing to take care of people. They're cutting corners, they're omitting care. They're omitting the basic procedures of washing your hands between residents."
Freska Griarte, a radio personality at 96.5 KOIT, said her 84-year-old mother suffers from Alzheimer's Disease and needs 24 hour care, so she's in a skilled nursing facility, which now worries her daughter.
"We were like, 'What's going to happen to Mom? What are we going to do?' We just have to try, and it's scary," said Griarte. "But it's my mom. What am I going to do?"
If you can't afford to remove your family members from a nursing home, Dr. Harrington said family members need to be diligent and make sure the staff is taking appropriate precautions.
The American Health Care Association, which represents more than 13,500 non-profit and for-profit nursing facilities sent out new guidelines on how to deal with the coronavirus.
READ: CORONAVIRUS GUIDELINES
"I think our facility seems to be good about that stuff," Griarte said. "I keep an eye and see, like, do they take care of the residents? Are they on top of things? Are they just sitting around outside doing nothing?"
Health officials across California are stressing they are as ready as possible for whatever happens. The San Francisco Health Department says it's not a matter of if, but when San Francisco will get cases of the coronavirus.
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"No one should be surprised, the more you test, the more positives will come back from those tests and we're anticipating that," said California Governor Gavin Newsom.
Up until now, testing meant sending a sample to the CDC in Atlanta, which could take a week to get back. But on Monday, San Francisco officials announced the health department will begin directly testing patients, which will now mean a one day turnaround.
And officials said the testing will prioritize the most vulnerable, including older people with chronic diseases, often the very patients who are in nursing homes.
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