L.A. County's public health director tells families to consider removing elderly relatives from nursing homes

Catherine Garcia

The coronavirus can spread like wildfire through nursing homes, and Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County's public health director, said on Tuesday if families are able, it would be "perfectly appropriate" for them to pull their elderly relatives out of such facilities.

The COVID-19 coronavirus is able to cause devastation at nursing homes because many of the elderly residents have underlying health conditions; one of the country's first outbreaks was at a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, where two-thirds of residents and 47 workers became infected, and 35 people died. As of Tuesday, 173 people have died of COVID-19 in L.A. County, and 36 were residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, Ferrer said.

Ferrer suggested that people who are now working from home might be able to care for their relatives, but acknowledged that for those whose loved ones have dementia or serious illnesses, taking them out of the nursing home might not be an option.

Dr. Michael Wasserman is president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine, which represents doctors, nurses, and other nursing home employees, and he told the Los Angeles Times if his mother or grandmother lived in a nursing home right now, and he had the "capability and the wherewithal to bring her home, I would." It doesn't matter how good a facility is, most nursing homes in the United States "are going to be challenged by this," Wasserman said. "Some will do better than others, but sooner or later, the virus will find its way in."

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