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A Visalia nursing home has become a California coronavirus epicenter. Here’s what we know.

Visalia, we have a problem.

Tuesday, Tulare County public health officials announced thirty additional patients at Redwood Springs Healthcare Center contracted coronavirus.

Two weeks after it reported its first case, the nursing home has reported 140 cases of coronavirus among its patients and staff along with eight fatalities.

“Redwood Springs is, unfortunately, a large cluster for us,” said Tim Lutz, Tulare County’s public health director told the Visalia Times-Delta.

Based on current data, the home itself accounts for exactly half of all Tulare County reported cases of the disease and more than 60 percent of the county’s fatalities.

The nursing home’s Tuesday spike accounted for one more case than all of Fresno County – a county of nearly one million people – on the same day.

As nursing staff, outside physicians, and public health officials work to mitigate the spread of the disease and limit additional fatalities, a few questions have repeatedly been raised – others not so much.

We sought some answers.

Did Redwood Springs nursing staff receive personal protective equipment?

Since its initial outbreak, the home has been dogged by anonymous complaints from staff about failing to provide personal protective equipment before the the disease expanded through the 176-bed facility.

In a statement to The Sun, Anita Hubbard, the facility’s administrator, noted that the facility established a coronavirus lockdown area shortly after two employees became symptomatic on March 29 – weeks after the facility closed down visitations over the pandemic.

“Since [March 30], we’ve kept all our dedicated team members updated on the status of those with COVID-19 and our actions,” Hubbard said. “We’ve also ensured that every staff – working within and outside the COVID unit – received the necessary personal protective equipment, including gloves, gowns, and masks to service their patients in accordance with County Health and CDC guidelines.”

Employees working within the coronavirus unit of the nursing facility were also issued N95 respirator masks, Hubbard added.

With so many cases, what does the response to Redwood Springs look like?

Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a push to strengthen infection control in skilled nursing homes akin to Redwood Springs.

One key element was the deployment of teams of experts from the California Department of Public Health and Department of Social Services to provide direct, one-on-one assistance.

Officials with the California Department of Public Health said that the agency was designating a strike team to Redwood Springs to aid in the agency’s work with with Tulare County Health and Human Services and Emergency Medical Services.

In response to the added intervention of state officials, Hubbard said the nursing home was conducting coronavirus testing for every individual in the facility.

The facility has also received additional medical support from Kaweah Delta Medical Center and Adventist Health.

How does this affect Redwood Springs’ license?

For the moment, the short answer is: the outbreak doesn’t affect it much at all.

We’re in the throes of a pandemic

However, someone from the facility did report its outbreak to the California Department of Public Health for an investigative survey.

Skilled nursing facilities and other elder care facilities are subject not only to routine surveys by public health officials, but also regular complaints by patients, their families, and often employees within the facilities themselves.

Redwood Springs was the subject of the latter – a facility-reported incident, initiated by an anonymous individual affiliated with the nursing home.

The complaint was filed March 30, one day after staff displayed coronavirus symptoms.

Ultimately, a surveyor from the California Department of Public Health was dispatched to the facility for a review.

“A surveyor came on the visit and found we were in full compliance,” Hubbard told The Sun.

State public health officials noted that the outbreak did not yield any “violations of federal and/or state laws and regulations that CDPH cite during the course of a survey.”

Alex Tavlian
Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.