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30 more Redwood Springs residents get COVID-19 in state's largest known outbreak: 148 patients, 6 dead

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30 more Redwood Springs residents get COVID-19 in state's largest known outbreak: 148 patients, 6 dead

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Redwood Springs Healthcare Center on Tuesday, April 14, 2020.
Redwood Springs Healthcare Center on Tuesday, April 14, 2020.
Joshua Yeager
Visalia Times Delta
Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Thirty more Redwood Springs Healthcare Center residents have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the facility's total number of cases to 148 in what is California's single largest known outbreak. 

Public health officials announced the initial outbreak of eight cases on April 1. In just two weeks, that number has increased twentyfold and six residents have died.

The northwest Visalia nursing home now accounts for fully half of Tulare County's 296 cases and 13 deaths as of Tuesday.

A third of the 176-bed facility's workforce and two-thirds of all residents have tested positive for COVID-19, with several tests pending.

"Redwood Springs is, unfortunately, a large cluster for us," said Tim Lutz, Tulare County HHSA director.

Since Saturday, health officials have scrambled to find personnel to staff the troubled nursing home. Employees from Kaweah Delta Medical Center and Adventist Health Tulare are helping to fill the gap but Lutz says staffing "remains a significant challenge" at Redwood Springs.

“We’re doing what we can to help. Our goal is to guide and mentor them through this process,” said Kaweah Delta CEO Gary Herbst. "By sending our team to Redwood Springs, we are caring for these residents in their home."

Should any of the residents need acute care, Herbst said they will be transferred to the hospital for treatment. There are eight patients connected to the nursing home at the Kaweah Delta as of Monday.

Everything is on a "day-by-day basis" at the facility, which continues to operate and care for 128 people, many of whom are vulnerable with preexisting health conditions and already required significant care.

"Our absolute worst case scenario is having to evacuate this facility and move those residents to another facility," Lutz said. "We are working very hard to keep staffing there so we do not have to evacuate (Redwood Springs)."

Lutz added that the Porterville Developmental Center, one of several alternate care sites identified by the state, will have 29 beds available for skilled nursing patients once the Army Corp of Engineers completes the temporary hospital — still not nearly enough to accommodate Redwood Springs, he said.

In the meantime, the county is working to recruit nursing students and retirees to meet the "immediate need" of the nursing home, Lutz said. The state could also send personnel to Visalia but help won't come until the end of the week at the earliest.

Across the state and country, nursing homes have emerged as ground zero for the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. Experts say these chronically understaffed facilities are particularly vulnerable because their employees receive little training on how to handle outbreaks and are driven to work at multiple facilities because of their relatively low wages.

Lutz said no other Tulare County nursing homes have a known COVID-19 case at this time.

Redwood Springs has been fined $150,000 since 2017 by the California Department of Public Health over a litany of deficiencies, including for the death of a patient and not reporting sexual and physical assaults of residents. Additionally, there are four infractions related to infectious disease against the nursing home.

While those working at the facility are now supplied with personal protective equipment, several certified nursing assistants have told the Times-Delta that facemasks and other sanitary equipment were not provided to staff until after the outbreak had been discovered at the facility in late March.

Like most nursing homes, Redwood Springs had been on lockdown since March 12, canceling visitation. The facility's administrator said that employees were screened for COVID-19 symptoms before each shift.

"We have been vigilant and early for weeks in adopting the practices and protocols that have been directed by Centers for Disease Control, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, state and county guidance to protect the frail and vulnerable residents entrusted to our care," stated Anita Hubbard, Redwood Springs' administrator. 

Carly Anderson, a registered nurse with Kaweah Delta, was among the first to volunteer at Redwood Springs.

“I heard they needed help and I wanted to do it,” Anderson said. “I became a nurse to help people. I’m happy to be a part of the team trying to help people in this time.”

Joshua Yeager covers water, agriculture, parks and housing for the Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Advance-Register newspapers. Follow him onTwitter @VTD_Joshy. Get alerts and keep up on all things Tulare County for as little as $1 a month. Subscribe today.

[This article was originally published by Visalia Times Delta.]

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