San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, co-chair of the county’s COVID-19 subcommittee, speaks at a coronavirus news conference on March 19, 2020. (Zoë Meyers / inewsource)

After weeks of silence after a crushing independent review of the county’s COVID-19 hotel protection program, Chairman of the Board of Directors Nathan Fletcher admitted on Wednesday that improvements are needed.

“I think we need to do a better job, and I acknowledge and admit that,” Fletcher said, adding that officials are working to improve the problematic program.

His comments, the first from a public official on the matter, came at the end of an independent press conference Wednesday morning in the district administration building where Fletcher announced an agreement to improve services in the San Diego District prisons.

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When asked what the county plans to do to improve services for people staying at these hotels, which the county has been using since March 2020 for people who have nowhere else to isolate themselves from the coronavirus, they lacked the details.

“We are reviewing the report and looking at anything we can possibly change,” said Fletcher. “There is no lack of will to tackle the problem. It is a very challenging and difficult situation. “

the report, released Aug. 3 by San Diego State University, said the county had given an unqualified company a $ 30 million contract to operate the hotels, and poorly trained staff forced long delays on COVID-19 patients for much-needed medication and leaving gaps in services that could have led to overdoses and suicide.

Employees and hotel guests informed the SDSU that the district contractor, Equus Workforce Solutions, is mismanaging the program, and the staff are not trained to work with many of the isolating people – people who are homeless and who may be struggling with mental illness or addictions. As a result, drug use and suicide attempts became rampant.

Hundreds of people will continue to rely on these hotels for services until the county’s contract with Equus expires later this year. However, there are no plans to discuss the report or the future of the program in a public meeting.

When asked if the county is reconsidering its contract with Equus, Fletcher said, “The only thing I can say is that we are looking at every legal option to do better.”

This is happening as COVID-19 cases rise across the region and officials urge the public to take more precautionary measures.

The district executive ordered a review Early March, eight days after one innewsource investigation uncovered problems with poor care and supervision at the Crowne Plaza in Mission Valley – the main hotel used in the protection program. Officials agreed to pay the SDSU $ 140,000 for the assessment and final report, which included nine recommendations for improving the program. One of the recommendations included 14 changes that could be made immediately to address concerns from staff and guests.

But district officials have not said whether any of these changes will be made. inewsource has attempted to interview every member of the county board since the report was published, but no one has been willing to discuss it.

District spokesman Michael Workman sent a statement The day the report was released said officials would take the report into account, adding that this was “our only comment or reaction to the report or your questions”. Workman stopped responding to emails from inewsource regarding the SDSU report.

The SDSU commended the county staff for their dedication, flexibility and sense of urgency, saying the program likely prevented the spread of COVID-19 across the county. However, the review also confirms inewsource’s reporting over the past year and a half from guests, as well as district and contract employees, who uncovered neglect and misconduct in the protection program.

The entire program has been challenging throughout COVID-19, Fletcher said.

In one (n Email received innewsource last spring, one employee told her co-workers, pushing and begging, and asking for additional staff to provide adequate assistance.

Within a week, district officials changed an existing $ 13 million contract that they were with Telecare Corp.who provided mental health services to San Diegans in the legal system to serve the isolated people as well. Even so, shortly after this email, a man died of suicide at the Crowne Plaza. Death was undetected for five days.

Two months after inewsource exposed these issues and suicidal death, county officials hired Equus to take over the program.

But the problems have continued under the leadership of Equus.

SDSU researchers revealed a disagreement among district officials about the type of program needed. Some said the goal is simply to isolate people and reduce the spread in the community, which the program has achieved. However, others realized that these hotels would become a type of accommodation primarily serving vulnerable people with complex needs.

SDSU seems to agree that additional help is needed as four of the nine recommendations listed in the report relate to case management, medical, or behavioral services. The report goes on to say that all similar programs in the future should focus on medical and behavioral health services.

Jill Castellano and Camille von Kaenel contributed to this report.

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