SALEM, Ore. (AP) — State auditors say Oregon health officials’ failure to adequately prepare for COVID-19 likely contributed to some senior care home coronavirus deaths early in the pandemic.
The two state agencies responsible for responding to the pandemic wasted “valuable time” in the first few months after Oregon’s first case as they tried to figure out how to work together, the Secretary of State Oregon Audits Division found in a report released Wednesday.
The Oregonian/OregonLive reports more than 90 people eventually died in outbreaks that began while state agencies were building a new administrative system.
The Department of Human Services and the Oregon Health Authority did not plan “basic elements for responding together,” the auditor’s office wrote. “These elements were developed after the response began, delaying actions that may have prevented illness and death among long-term care residents and staff.”
About half of all COVID-19 deaths in Oregon were long-term care residents, auditors said, compared to just over a third nationally. As of March 14, 1,210 people in congregate care had died.
Auditors listed a number of suggestions. Going forward, the state should track how many workers get vaccinated and find a way to potentially make that data public, citing troubling trends showing that health care workers have been declining to get shots.
The state should also do better to involve Oregon’s top advocate for seniors, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman. And, auditors wrote, health officials could visit facilities more often to ensure they are complying with infection control rules.
In their response to the findings, the directors of the health authority and human services listed steps they’ve taken to curb the pandemic’s toll on long-term care. That included opening seven COVID-19 recovery units, enacting a statewide mandate that senior care staff get tested at least monthly, and pre-emptive inspections to check that facilities were following infection-control practices.