Long Beach nursing home reports 11 deaths; facility says neighborhood has responded with ‘compassion’

Broadway by the Sea, a skilled nursing facility with Long Beach’s highest coronavirus infection rate, disclosed Wednesday that 11 of its residents have died from the disease.

As the virus continues to spread through the city’s long-term care facilities, Broadway by the Sea has become an epicenter, where infections have been reported among 44 residents and 27 staff members at the 95-bed center.

Of the 33 overall deaths from coronavirus in Long Beach, more than 80%—27 total—have been associated with long-term care facilities.

With its 11 reported deaths, Broadway by the Sea now accounts for one-third of all coronavirus-related fatalities in Long Beach. The facility disclosed the deaths after inquiries by the Post.

“We grieve with the family members and friends of our 11 residents who passed away from Covid-19 and Covid-19 related complications,” administrator Dean Gunnell said in a statement. “Each day these families are in our hearts, in our minds, and in our prayers.”

Gunnell said a number of residents and staff have since recovered and that none of its employees as of Wednesday were hospitalized. No employees have died from the virus, he said.

Broadway by the Sea, at 2725 E. Broadway, sits in a block of homes, apartment complexes and businesses in a densely-populated area in the Bluff Heights neighborhood near Downtown.

Some neighbors have expressed concern about having a facility with so many coronavirus cases located so close.  “We don’t like to go near it,” said one man who lives in a neighboring apartment building and asked not to be named. “It’s Ground Zero for coronavirus.”

But Gunnell said many in the community have reached out to offer their support.

“Long Beach is our home,” he said. “It’s home to our residents and Long Beach is home to our staff. Our residents and staff appreciate the words of encouragement offered via email, the prayers you’re saying for us, and the kind waves we get every now and again from our neighbors across the street. Your kindness and compassion is appreciated.”

The disclosure by Broadway by the Sea comes as Long Beach’s Health Department has declined to release the numbers of deaths for specific facilities, despite requests from the Post.

As of Tuesday, more than 30% of the city’s 602 coronavirus infections were connected to 16 long-term care facilities in Long Beach. The city has not yet provided a full list of those facilities.

The nursing home with the second highest infection rate has been Long Beach Healthcare Center, where the city has said that 17 residents and less than 11 staff have been infected. For more than two years, Long Beach Healthcare has appeared on a federal watch list for the country’s poorest-quality nursing homes.

Unlike Broadway by the Sea, the facility has not disclosed whether deaths have occurred there, and its administrator could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Families and media outlets in cities and states across the county have pressed for more transparency as many government agencies and nursing facilities have cited patient privacy laws in refusing to release details.

Last week, however, Los Angeles County’s public health department broke with that practice and is now reporting the number of cases and deaths at individual facilities. Although Long Beach, which has its own health department, has so far not followed suit, Mayor Robert Garcia has said he’d like to see the city’s disclosure practices consistent with those of L.A. County.

Nationally, the number of nursing homes residents who have died has passed 10,000, accounting for 20% of the country’s coronavirus-related fatalities, according to an ABC News report.

In an effort to fight the surge in deaths, Los Angeles County and Long Beach last week announced widespread testing for both residents and staff in long-term care facilities, regardless of whether they show symptoms.

But some have said the effort has come too late.

In a news conference on Monday, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said testing was previously only reserved only for people showing symptoms of COVID-19, a move that county officials now concede may have fueled the spread of the virus.

“I apologize on behalf of all of us for not knowing enough at the start of this epidemic to take additional steps in our congregate living facilities to make sure we were doing everything possible to protect residents and staff,” she said.

Gunnell said Broadway by the Sea is challenged by serving a vulnerable population.

“A significant number of our residents live with a number of health conditions that prohibit them from living at home with family,” he said. “Our staff cares for our residents 24/7 with dignity, respect, and compassion.”

Last year, Broadway by the Sea was cited for its small room size by the Department of Health and Human Services. The report said the facility had about two dozen rooms where up to three residents lived in a 223-square-foot space. The federal minimum is 80 square feet per resident.

The facility, however, was granted a “room waiver” and the inspection report noted that residents’ care and safety were not affected by room size.

Michael Connors, a spokesperson for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, said crowding in nursing homes has long been a concern, but residents are especially vulnerable now with the spread of coronavirus.

“Allowing nursing homes to cram three to four residents in small rooms has always been unsafe and undignified, but permitting it now is life threatening because it makes social distancing an impossibility,” he said.

Gunnell said Broadway by the Sea has a “few rooms” with three residents and that many have private rooms or one roommate.

He said the facility’s high numbers of infections could be the result of its “persistent approach to testing.”

“Since the first reported case of Covid-19 at Broadway by the Sea, we have consistently requested priority access to testing for residents and staff,” he said. “We diligently researched and purchased as many tests as possible at our own expense and we are working in collaboration with public health agencies to perform broad testing of residents and staff.”

To protect residents and staff, he said, the facility has taken a number of actions including: providing personal protective equipment, prohibiting visitors and new residents, regularly screening staff and residents for symptoms, keeping residents in their rooms and increased disinfecting.

Gunnell said Broadway by the Sea is encouraged by Long Beach’s effort to expand its testing program for long-term care facilities.

“Providing testing access to more at-risk people will empower us to get a clearer idea of where the coronavirus is and how to best mitigate its spread,” he said.

Do you have loved one in a long-term care facility in Long Beach? Contact Kelly Puente at [email protected]

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Kelly Puente is a general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. Her prolific reporting has taken her all over Southern California—even to the small Catalina Island town of Two Harbors. She is a Tiki mug collector and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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