Hotels helping treat, house LA County's homeless during coronavirus pandemic

Large hotels throughout Los Angeles County are helping to house and treat the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- At the Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles, nurse Maria Ochoa suits up each day to test for COVID-19.

"I'm wearing my N95, my goggles, my face shield, my gown and my gloves," she said.

For those who test positive some may end up 30 miles away at this four-star hotel.

At a time when many hotel rooms are empty, this Pomona hotel lobby is bustling with workers. Instead of hotel staff, doctors and nurses greet guests.

L.A. County Department of Public Health Regional Officer Dr. Silvia Prieto said, "Generally they are here for between seven to 14 days until they are considered no longer infectious."

For the past several weeks, a collaboration of various county agencies and local clinics have been housing and treating homeless patients at dozens of locations.

Public health nurse Barbara Deridder said, "We just received a family of three, a mother and her children who were living in a car. And unfortunately, all were positive."

Dr. Chinhnam Hathuc with the East Valley Community Health Center said, "It's difficult for them to socially isolate. It's difficult for them to find shelter and quarantine.

Physician assistant Benito Contreras said, "You kind of get to develop a rapport with these people. And you kind of see the person behind the stigma."

The staff treats more than just coronavirus.

"Things like diabetes, hypertension and including mental issues, social issues. They come with it all," said Hathuc .

Besides the homeless, these medical isolation centers are also a safety net for travelers caught between countries and for multi-generational families.

Deridder said, "A lot of people, they're not able to quarantine at home because they have other family members or other children. So we take them into this hotel."

In all, the county has procured about 2,000 rooms for COVID-19 patients.

Another important goal is to prevent the spread in crowded encampments and shelters.

For that, the county has contracted more hotels for another program called Project Room Key. It offers 90-day housing giving clients a chance to find permanent homes when their stay is over.

As for the discharged patients?

"Our goal is that they do not go just to the streets," Prieto said.

Many of these hotels and motels are in neighborhoods. Prieto hopes going forward it'll open minds about where we can build permanent housing.

"I hope that people will see that this is of value to the people. It's the correct humane thing to do as well as it's for their protection as well," she said.
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