Why did Santa Barbara County not make the testing of congregate nursing care facilities their top health care priority?
The county has committed a “cataclysmic failure to provide comprehensive testing in senior care facilities, demonstrably the greatest concentration of people-at-risk under the Public Health Department’s responsibility.”
It is unconscionable that it will have taken Santa Barbara’s Public Health Department more than 3 months to prioritize the Governor’s order pertaining to testing, tracing and isolating these patients and staff members.
Last week, the county of Santa Barbara reported a skilled nursing facility in Santa Maria experienced reported 24 cases of COVID-19 among residents and 12 among staff. How could this level of infection occur months after the entire country was informed of the dangers of COVID-19 among the elderly?
The county’s public health department oversight of the COVID-19 outbreak in our county warrants an investigation in view of the fact that lives may have been unnecessarily endangered. In particular, there appears to have been a cataclysmic failure to provide comprehensive testing in senior care facilities, demonstrably the greatest concentration of people-at-risk under the Public Health Department’s responsibility.
It is common knowledge throughout the world that COVID-19 was most threatening and deadly in congregate care facilities, namely nursing homes filled with particularly vulnerable patients with compromised immune systems in a facility ripe for infectious disease transmission.
All this was particularly troubling considering the California State Public Health Departments orders in late March that these facilities were required to take in COVID-19 patients, meaning this vulnerable population required immediate protection protocols.
On May 5, the public health department staff presented two PowerPoint slides to the Board of Supervisors, indicating that six facilities had outbreaks, affecting over 150 patients, but that a plan was in place to monitor and test this vulnerable population.
Despite their assurances to the contrary, it appears the county of Santa Barbara did not make the testing of congregate care facilities their top health care priority despite the impending threat of an unmanageable and potentially deadly crisis. Meanwhile, the department spent precious time and resources doing daily briefings to the press, and weekly presentations to the board of supervisors. Moreover, at their daily briefing on June 8, the department notified the public that testing of patients and staff at these facilities would not be completed until the end of June.
This is not only unacceptable; it an apparent dereliction of duty and public trust.
Subsequently, I have requested a thorough forensic audit of this department be made immediately and that an order be issued to expedite the testing of the patients and the staff of these institutions. An independent authority, such as District Attorney or the County Grand Jury, must determine the exact cause of the failure to make this the number one priority of the department. Moreover, an audit must be conducted to determine if lives were lost, and if this disease was unnecessarily spread because of the associated delays.
According to the June 8 briefing, county staff identified 14 facilities in this county that are home to 1,000 residents and served by 2,000 staff members. In light of the fact that the State was put in lock down back in March, it is unconscionable that it will have taken this department more than 3 months to prioritize the Governor’s order pertaining to testing, tracing and isolating these patients and staff members. In short, this was, and continues to be, a matter of life and death.
Of insult to injury is the fact that in this year’s county budget book, it is revealed that the Public Health Department has a budget of approximately $100 million per year with a staff of 528 people. Specifically, the pertinent division within the department, that of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, has a budget of approximately $15 million per year and a staff of 95. The department had the gall to state, as an accomplishment, in the budget book, the following:
“Provided rapid disease containment to prevent outbreaks in congregate settings and among high risk populations.”
Rapid disease containment? Need I say more?
Editors note: Andy Caldwell filed a request for inquiry and investigation with Santa Barbara District Attorney Dudley and the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury Foreman, regarding the county’s public health department oversight of the COVID-19 outbreak.