Letter alleging criminal negligence against Public Health Department over COVID-19 testing in nursing homes sent to Grand Jury and district attorney
The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury and Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce Dudley received a letter alleging that the Santa Barbara Public Health Department was criminally negligent by failing to test individuals in nursing homes for COVID-19 fast enough in response to the state’s March 30 order, which required such facilities accept people suspected of having the virus.
On Wednesday morning, Ms. Dudley told the News-Press that she was consulting with County Chief Investigator Patrick Clouse, Civil Prosecutor Chris Dalbey, and a district attorney from another county who she chose not to name regarding the letter. In particular, they were discussing which venue, be it law enforcement, the DA’s office, or Grand Jury, would be best suited to look into the letter’s allegations should they be found worthy of investigation.
By Wednesday afternoon, Ms. Dudley told the News-Press that she had notified Mr. Caldwell that the Grand Jury is the right venue.
“Given the nature of the allegations… his allegations were correctly sent to the Grand Jury. Now it is up (to) them to proceed,” she said.
Written by Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business Executive Director and congressional candidate Andy Caldwell, the letter accuses the Public Health Department of allowing 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.”
He elaborated that the department completing COVID-19 testing by the end of June, as Public Health Department Director Dr. Von Do-Reynoso said would be the case during a June 8 press briefing, is three months after the State demanded these care facilities admit COVID-19 patients and far too long a wait for testing patients and staff.
“In light of the fact that the State was put in lock down back in March it is unconscionable that it would 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,” he said.
He added that by the time the Board of Supervisors presented the public with protocols to monitor and test populations in congregate care facilities during a May 5 meeting, such facilities in Santa Barbara already had a large number of known COVID-19 cases. According to a slide from the meeting’s presentation, there were 152 coronavirus cases when the plan was announced.
In an interview with the News-Press, Mr. Caldwell took aim at the health department’s handling of COVID-19 testing at nursing homes from a number of angles. These included the department spending a great deal of time conducting daily briefings rather than rolling out testing at congregate care facilities. He also criticized the department setting up testing sites in the North and South County before testing nursing home populations was even completed.
“These people are vulnerable and should have been our highest priority,” he said.
According to Community Health Division Deputy Director Paige Batson, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department received tests for COVID-19 from nursing home doctors when the first cases arose. She explained that it is required under Title 17 of the California Code of Regulations for congregate care facilities to report to the department when a case of a disease that appears on Title 17’s list of communicable diseases arises in the facility. The list includes COVID-19 and influenza, one case of either in a nursing home qualifying as an outbreak.
The deputy director added that Dr. Do-Reynoso’s comments during the June 8 briefing actually referred to local nursing facilities submitting mitigation plans to the California Department of Public Health, which will result in them submitting baseline testing to the state before the end of the month. Initially issued to nursing facilities on May 11, nursing homes have 21 calendar days to submit the mitigation plans.
“This is not a situation where anyone dropped the ball,” Ms. Batson said.