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Condo residents concerned about La Jolla nursing home’s ‘garbage’

Refuse around open trash containers in this alley on April 6.
(Courtesy)

“I’m blown away by what continues to go on there,” said Robyn Leary of the haphazard disposal of gloves, masks and other medical discards near La Jolla Nursing & Rehabilitation Center at 2552 Torrey Pines Road.

Leary, a resident of the La Jolla Racquet Club condo complex next to the nursing center, told the Light that she and others have complained about the situation for years and are fed up with constant littering — especially now in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Racquet Club and nursing center share an alley, Leary noted, “and the nuisance of overflowing garbage from the center is a big concern for me and my neighbors. There are latex and nitrile examination gloves blowing around on the ground, as well as on the hill and road opposite the center where employees often park. There are masks and gloves just being discarded on the side of the road.

“With the coronavirus outbreak, La Jolla has a lot of elderly residents at a higher risk for infections, and the discarded items put many at risk if medical waste is not being properly disposed of.”

Since 2018, she said, she has complained about the situation via various channels.

The Racquet Club’s HOA forwarded her complaint to the nursing center. “They make excuses,” Leary said of the nursing center’s response. “They say ‘We don’t use blue gloves; it must be from the ambulances.’ But the center still has a responsibility! It just goes on.”

In an e-mail to the Light, Donna Durckel of the San Diego County Land Use & Environment Group communications office stated: “Our records show the Department of Environmental Health (DEH) investigated the complaint and spoke with the facility on April 8. The La Jolla Nursing & Rehabilitation Center was very responsive and cooperative.”

Furthermore, Durckel said: “DEH has since verified that the gloves and trash in question, while technically do not meet the definition of a regulated medical waste, have been contained in a dumpster that is secured and locked as advised.”

Durckel added: “According to State of California Department of Public Health, as of March 16, there are no additional regulatory handling marking storage transportation or treatment requirements for medical waste contaminated with COVID-19. Unless gloves, masks, and needle caps are contaminated with liquid blood, they are not considered medical waste.”

The Light also reached out to the La Jolla Nursing & Rehabilitation Center for comment, but no response was received by press time Tuesday.

Leary said she has “escalated this on multiple occasions to the City level, via a liaison in Council member Barbara Bry’s office.” Leary’s communications with the City offices “go from one office to another,” she said, and have now been brought to the County’s attention.

Her complaints have also included her concerns about what she says is a non-permitted propane tank next to the dumpsters.

“I do worry about the fire safety of the propane tank,” Leary said. “There are so many issues, this keeps me up at night.”

Leary said she’s not alone in her anxiety; she reports some of her Racquet Club neighbors have moved or are considering moving “because we are unable to enforce what seems to be regular safety code violation with this nursing home.”

White latex gloves line the ground on April 17 outside nursing center dumpsters.
(Courtesy)

Regarding the propane tank, Durckel stated: “DEH also assisted the facility with proper reporting of a propane tank in question. Other issues associated with the tank (location, permitting, smoking) were referred to the San Diego Fire Department and City Code Enforcement for fire code requirements follow up.”

Durckel then explained DEH staff had followed up with the complainant and shared with her the actions it was taking in response to the safety concerns.

Despite Durckel’s reassurance that DEH has seen to the matter, Leary insists the refuse she saw and photographed was on the ground or left lying about in the open on April 15 and 17 — well past the April 8 resolution Durckel reported.

“In fact,” Leary said, “the same pairs of gloves I saw April 5 were still there April 15. It seems the call from the County has done very little.”

To this, Durckel responded, “DEH investigated and provided direction, but because the items are not medical waste, the hazmat division does not have authority to require the facility to pick up the gloves and we are unable to issue a citation or have a formal action.”

— For information on proper disposal of Personal Protection Equipment — especially as it relates to COVID-19 — visit bit.ly/ppedisposal