Central Garden Convalescent Hospital, site of the city's deadliest COVID-19 outbreak.

A woman who recently spent a month convalescing at Central Gardens Post Acute, the site of San Francisco’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak to date, says she was discharged on April 13 without being officially warned that both staff and residents had tested positive here for the deadly disease. 

As of April 22, 65 employees and patients here have tested positive, and four elderly residents of Central Gardens Post Acute have died. Only 21 total COVID-19 deaths have been recorded in all of San Francisco. 

On the day of her discharge, “Nobody said anything to me. Just, ‘Your car is here and you can leave now,’” recalled the former patient, a septuagenarian, who asked her name not be used for this article (“I don’t want my name in the paper unless it’s under my byline”). 

For the purposes of this story, we’ll refer to her as Helen. 

“It was very abrupt. I am so pissed they did not tell me anything or offer me a test.” 

Helen, a city native who lives alone, says she was never officially informed that there was a serious coronavirus problem at the skilled nursing facility where she spent a month. Confusingly, however, she says her emergency contact, a neighbor, was called on the phone and told this on April 2. 

As such, Helen has been in self-quarantine in her apartment for the nearly two weeks since her discharge. 

Mission Local visited Helen and personally reviewed her Central Gardens’ post-discharge plan of care papers, dated April 13. She says she spent exactly one month at the facility, checking in on March 13 after recuperating from an operation.

The state Department of Public Health this weekend put out a list of coronavirus cases among residents and staff in skilled nursing facilities. These residences for the elderly are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, and at Central Gardens, the 65 positive tests include 38 residents and 27 staffers. It is easily the hardest-hit site in San Francisco, and among the worst staff tallies in the state. 

Mission Local was first to report the four fatalities here yesterday.   

Messages left on Thursday for Central Gardens’ spokesman, Daniel Kramer, have not yet been returned. 

He has not yet disclosed to Mission Local what Central Gardens’ policy is with regard to informing its residents of a COVID-19 outbreak within the facility. It is unclear how Helen could have been discharged on April 13 and, as she claims, not told of this and allowed to go on her way without being tested — potentially exposing others. 

Both Kramer and Health Department director Dr. Grant Colfax confirmed that the first positive COVID-19 test came back at Central Gardens on March 30. Staff there tell Mission Local that they learned of this several days later — and that the patient’s condition had been “brushed off” because she was prone to urinary tract infections. 

It was not until she was hospitalized after her fever could not be controlled with Tylenol that she was tested and the results came back positive. 

Helen, who kept a journal during her 30 days at Central Gardens, says she was not told of this nor subsequent positive COVID-19 tests at the facility — though she did hear snippets of conversation among staff in which they used words like “isolation” and “infection.”

Staffers here told Mission Local that patients who have tested positive have been quarantined to one wing of the facility (and that some employees were less than diligent in removing potentially contaminated personal protective equipment before wandering into common areas).

Helen, however, says she was told the patients kept on the far side of the building had urinary tract infections, “so I could not use the bathroom over there.” 

The gym where she had been doing daily rehabilitation work was abruptly closed on March 31. “There was no physical therapist and half the regular staff was gone,” says Helen. “And I remember that someone was going to the hospital, but I didn’t think much of it in a place like that.” 

Helen says she witnessed several more residents being carted out by paramedics; she could see the flashing ambulance lights from her window. Staff were clearly cleaning more and immobile residents were no longer taken into the hallways to eat their meals among other people. Employees were required to have their temperature taken before clocking in — but, Helen says, there was nobody administering this and the workers were made to take their own temperatures . 

Staffers, many of them apparently in quarantine, stopped showing up. One nurse, close in age to Helen, “was energetic and sprightly in my first week. In my second week, she could hardly move. The third week, I didn’t see her.” 

To make up for the shortages, Helen says temporary workers were brought in.

Through all this she says, nobody told her there were multiple COVID-19 problems there — even while her emergency contact purportedly received a phone call regarding this back on April 2. 

When she finally buttonholed a nurse about the situation, she says it was downplayed: She was told that, yes, there was a COVID-19 patient on site briefly who’d caught the virus in the hospital — but that person had been expediently shipped out. 

Staffers here told Mission Local that, following the March 30 positive test, they held a meeting. 

“When we found out about that initial patient, we all felt concerned and had a meeting,” said an employee here. “We said everybody needs to get tested: All the workers and all the patients.” 

This worker says that proposition was denied by management: “If you didn’t have a fever, you couldn’t get tested. Only a couple of people had fevers. Those were the ones who got tested.” 

Kramer confirmed earlier this week, however, that most of the positive tests at Central Gardens were asymptomatic. 

Eventually the California Department of Public Health, with assistance from the San Francisco Department of Public Health, sent workers on-site to test all the residents and staff. 

Employees at Central Gardens say this came two-and-a-half weeks after they they demanded universal testing. 

It apparently came too late for Helen. She has been quarantining-in-place in her San Francisco apartment since her April 13 discharge. She has arranged for a COVID-19 test on her own, with her own personal doctor, which is scheduled for Friday. 

She’s told she’ll have results three to five days after that. 


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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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