Two days after the new coronavirus killed a patient at a Northern California assisted living home, some families of residents there are alarmed about the welfare of their loved ones and angry about a lack of information from the facility and local officials.
Several relatives of the 143 residents at the facility told The Times on Thursday they still hadn’t been informed of the death, were receiving scant details and feared the assisted living center was not taking simple precautions to prevent their relatives from becoming seriously ill.
As of Wednesday, people could still come and go at Carlton Senior Living — and those living at the facility in Elk Grove, a suburb of Sacramento, could also come and go, according to family members interviewed by The Times. Officials at the facility did not respond to calls and emails seeking a response.
As California reacts to its first known fatality from COVID-19 associated with a senior care home, family with loved ones in danger are questioning the speed and competence of the response.
Senior living facilities have been identified as potential high-risk sites for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The virus is known to be most deadly for those older than 50, and it can spread quickly in confined places such as care homes. Across the nation, many senior facilities have banned visitors and put restrictions on residents in an effort to prevent COVID-19 from striking the vulnerable population.
“There are a lot of lives at risk,” said Tyler Cooke, whose mother is at the facility. Cooke asked that his mother’s name not be used to protect her privacy.
“It’s going to ravage her if she gets it,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on. I can only imagine the worst and pray for the best.”
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The situation at Carlton is unfolding as Washington state copes with the tragedy and ripple effects of the first case of the novel coronavirus at an elder care facility. Since a patient at Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., was diagnosed with the coronavirus in mid-February, 26 of the facility’s 120 residents have died.
As of Wednesday, the facility said 65 residents had been transferred to the hospital, and 67 employees showed symptoms, though test results for those staffers had not yet come back.
Robert Luke, whose mother-in-law lives at the Carlton facility in Elk Grove, said he is concerned that residents are not receiving proactive medical care, such as having their temperatures taken, and that neither those inside the facility nor family members on the outside are receiving adequate information.
Luke said he has been waiting for two days for a call back from county health officials, but he is troubled by what he has been able to learn from staff at the facility. Luke said he was told residents are not being actively monitored for symptoms of the coronavirus but instead have been instructed to self-report to staff if they believe they are ill.
Cooke had heard something similar. “They’re monitoring them by asking them to notify the front desk if they start to feel feverish or develop a cough,” he said. “Ideally I would like some kind of county health professional to go there and be like, ‘All right, I am going to oversee this … and make sure it doesn’t spread.’”
Cooke said he was told the facility was suggesting that people refrain from visiting and that residents stay in their rooms, but also that staff said they had no power to enforce those guidelines. Wednesday, multiple people entered the facility, including a man delivering a package.
A man who appeared to be an elderly resident walked on a nearby sidewalk. One person entering the facility parked in a nearby grocery store lot before cutting through an apartment complex to reach the facility.
“To allow the residents to go and come freely, that’s crazy,” Luke said.
Persarlai Mukhtar, who lives in that nearby apartment building with his wife and two children, said he was “very concerned” to learn of the nearby outbreak. Before being informed by news media, he was unaware that the elderly patient had died of the coronavirus so close to his home.
Dr. Peter Beilenson, health director of Sacramento County, said he was unaware of the alleged lack of medical care at the facility and the loose mitigation measures.
“If these [conditions] are indeed true, I am very disappointed,” Beilenson said Thursday. “We have to make sure people follow guidelines or else we have to step in for further enforcement.
“If we are talking about mitigation of risk to those who are most at risk, this is the population we are talking about,” he added.
Carlton Senior Living has 11 facilities throughout the Bay Area and Sacramento regions, and has been in operation since 1985, according to the company’s website.
On its website, the company said Thursday that three residents had been tested for the virus and found negative by county health officials. Neither Cooke nor Luke were aware of their family member being tested, and both said they believed all residents and staff should be tested.
At a news conference Thursday, California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said he expected all residents to be tested and was working with the facility to make sure “everyone who needs testing gets it.”
Beilenson had said this week that Sacramento has a shortage of test kits, also a problem across the state and country. But Cooke said he thinks those in the senior facility should be prioritized because they are so susceptible to the virus and because an outbreak could spread to the community, as happened in Washington.
A statement from Carlton Senior Living said the facility was taking measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
“Due to this case we have implemented isolation protocol for the next 14 days and have been commended for the proactive steps we have taken to prevent the spread of this virus to other residents and staff in our Elk Grove Community,” the company’s statement reads. “Carlton continues to follow the guidelines and recommendations we receive from the CDC, Health Departments and experts in our industry.”
Ghaly said Thursday that the state was taking the situation “very seriously to make sure we lean in.”
“This is certainly a very important moment for California,” he said.
But family members are unconvinced the situation is being handled well.
“My point was they didn’t learn from … Kirkland,” Luke said.
The Times’ Seattle bureau chief Richard Read contributed to this report.