ORINDA — The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office and the state Department of Justice are investigating an Orinda nursing home where at least four patients have died from COVID-19 and more than 50 people have been infected, according to a prosecutor in charge of the probe.
Melissa Smith, a deputy district attorney with the county, confirmed in an email Thursday that investigators were working with regulators to probe “multiple COVID-19 related deaths of elderly residents of the Orinda Care Center” but provided no other details. A source close to the investigation said they are looking for possible instances of neglect.
The Contra Costa County Health Department announced in early April that 30 patients and staff at the Orinda Care Center were infected with the virus — one of the first large outbreaks in a senior care facility to be made public in the state.
Nursing homes have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, accounting for more than 40% of the COVID-19 deaths in California, as state and local officials struggle to contain the outbreaks. An outbreak this month at a Vallejo nursing home left 13 patients dead and infected at least 46.
No charges have been filed against the Orinda nursing home or its owners. A spokesperson for the California Department of Justice said the office could not comment on a “potential or ongoing investigation.”
The investigation comes after Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley revealed in April that they are investigating another nursing facility, the Gateway Rehabilitation and Care Center in Hayward, where at least 17 people have died and more than 100 patients and staff were infected. Civil rights lawyer John Burris had called for that investigation on behalf of the family of Costell Akrie, 87, of Oakland, who died at the facility in early April.
On Thursday, a spokesman for the Orinda Care Center said the home was “not aware of any investigation.”
“Nurses and staff at Orinda continue to care for our residents and have been successful mitigating” the outbreak, Dan Kramer said in a written statement.
The latest list of outbreaks provided by the state, which rely on data reported by each nursing home, showed 30 patient infections at Orinda Care Center as of May 19. Kramer disputed those numbers, claiming the facility has been “COVID-19 free” since May 7.
Last month this news organization reported a history of problems at nursing homes run by the owner of the Orinda Care Center, Crystal Solorzano, and the owners of the Gateway Care and Rehabilitation Center, Prema and Antony Thekkek.
A state inspection in August found the Orinda Care Center did not meet minimum staffing requirements on 16 out of 24 days that were monitored. Last year, state inspectors found that dietary staff at the facility could not describe or demonstrate the correct procedures for sanitizing cookware and tableware and that staff was storing expired and current medications together — sometimes without refrigerating those that required it.
“We believe these were unacceptable, but isolated, incidents,” Kramer said last month. “We’re doing everything we can to ensure they won’t happen again.”
In December, the California Department of Public Health denied three applications submitted by Solorzano to operate skilled nursing facilities in San Jose, Canoga Park and Glendora because inspectors found 97 federal regulatory violations in facilities she owned, managed or operated between October 2016 and October 2019, as well as 46 violations of state requirements and three administrative penalties for failing to meet minimum staffing requirements.
The Orinda investigation comes as Gov. Gavin Newsom is considering a request by the owners of nursing homes and other health care facilities across the state to grant them civil and criminal immunity for patient care and coronavirus deaths during the crisis.
In an April 9 letter, health care lobbyists asked him to issue an executive order that would make facilities, plans, doctors and healthcare employees “immune from any administrative sanction or criminal or civil liability or claim for any injury, death, or loss” that is alleged to have come from the care they provide during the state of emergency.
Newsom has not publicly revealed whether he will grant the request.
Health care industry groups say such a move would be an important protection for their strained workers — even one that would save lives, as organizations make difficult decisions about how to focus care in a time of crisis. “The prospect of being subjected to future lawsuits would burden and slow these decisions, threatening greater loss of life throughout California,” the group argues. But patient advocates worry it would remove protections for patients.
In a subsequent letter to Newsom, a coalition of legal and advocacy groups wrote that “many California nursing facilities have a long history of providing poor care — they should not be given absolute immunity at precisely the time at which high-quality care is more crucial than ever.”
Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office staff are encouraging anyone with information about the outbreak at the Orinda Care Center to contact Contra Costa County Senior Inspector Sean Eriksen at (925) 957-8760.
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