Abandoned By Caretakers, 83 Nursing Home Patients Evacuated

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RIVERSIDE, CA — Eighty-three patients at Magnolia Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Riverside were evacuated Wednesday to other healthcare locations throughout Riverside County after employees at the facility failed to show up to care for sick patients two days in a row, according to Riverside University Health System.

There are 34 known novel coronavirus cases among residents and 16 among employees at the 90-bed skilling nursing facility, according to updated figures provided Wednesday afternoon by Riverside University Health System Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser.

Given the nursing home's staffing crisis, Riverside University Health System and Kaiser Permanente sent licensed vocational nurses and registered nurses to care for the facility's residents, but ultimately the manpower shortage required that the patients be evacuated and relocated, Kaiser said.

One hospice patient at the facility died Wednesday, Kaiser said. No information about the person was provided.

It's not immediately clear whether illness, fears of COVID-19 infection, or other issues prompted employees to stay away from the nursing home, but Kaiser characterized the situation as one that could rise to "abandonment." He did not speculate as to whether legal action would be taken, but said the facility's management has been working with the county to move patients.

Kaiser said he has asked the California Department of Public Health's Licensing & Certification Bureau to investigate the circumstances behind the staffing shortage and determine whether there were neglect issues that need to be probed.

The neighboring Magnolia Extended Hospital had been under scrutiny after 26 staff members and 28 patients were diagnosed with COVID-19, according to Kaiser. The cases prompted testing at the now-shuttered skilled nursing facility.

According to county Emergency Management Director Bruce Barton, 53 American Medical Response ambulances were wrangled for Wednesday's evacuation, which was undertaken with the help of Riverside Fire Department personnel, who provided hands-on assistance, and Riverside police officers, who conducted traffic control around the facility.

The largest group of patients — 28 — was taken to the temporary 125-bed field hospital set up at the county Fairgrounds in Indio, according to Barton. Others have been routed to five hospitals in the region, as well as a Manor Care facility within the county, he said.

Like Kaiser, Barton fretted that staffing shortages at skilled nursing facilities and other healthcare establishments may become a growing problem.

"We are in immediate need to serve our most vulnerable patients," Barton said. "We need LVNs, RNs, physicians' assistants to work with COVID- positive patients. We will pay you and provide malpractice (insurance) coverage. We have an amazing team working on this night and day."

Anyone interested in applying was urged to visit https://rivcoph.org/coronaviru... and click on the volunteer button on the right side of the screen to submit credentials.

County officials have notified family members about the evacuation, according to Riverside University Health System. Family members can call 951-358-5134 to check the status of their family member.

Rehabilitation facilities and nursing homes present a challenge for health officials due to the age and health conditions of the residents, as well as their close proximity to each other.

"The county prioritizes investigations in these facilities due to the high risk of serious illness that outbreaks pose," according to Riverside University Health System.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Riverside County reached 1,179 Wednesday, and 32 people have died from the illness.

RELATED: Coronavirus By The Numbers In Riverside County

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This article originally appeared on the Banning-Beaumont Patch

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