Long Beach

Case workers say they're haunted by deaths at LA County homeless transition center

Case workers at a Long Beach homeless transition facility come forward and demand accountability for 20 deaths over three years.

NBC Universal, Inc.

Two case workers at a Long Beach homeless transition facility, one current and one former, say they raised red flags with their bosses and the city of Long Beach for months after eight of their clients died within a year.

“When you consistently see people dying at your workplace that you know could have been prevented, that is a feeling that doesn’t go away,” said D’Andre Beckham, a former case manager.

Beckham and Danya Dominguez worked at the “Project Home Key” facility on Long Beach Boulevard. They said they witnessed eight of the 20 confirmed deaths of enrolled clients.

“As soon as I walked in, I just knew. You could see lifelessness in his body,” said Dominguez, who had three clients die back-to-back with in two weeks at the end of 2022.

The two case managers said that’s when they started alerting their supervisors at Illumination Foundation, the non-profit that operated the facility.

They also say they met with Long Beach Homeless Manager Paul Duncan to discuss the high death rates and the dire need for medical and drug addiction assistance.

“We made it a point to meet with higher ups. We made it a point to meet with Paul Duncan,” said Beckham. “We expressed our issues. We expressed our concerns. We let him know the amount of people that were dying within the facility. He got very political. He didn’t give us any straight forward answers and even though we went in-depth with it, he kind of laughed us off.”

NBCLA reached out to Duncan for a response Tuesday and has not heard back. Last week, he referred NBCLA to the city statement that confirmed a total of 20 people enrolled in the facility had died since March 2021.

Late Tuesday night, city public affairs officer Jennifer Rice Epstein clarified “eight of the 20 deaths occurred on-site and at least 11 people died offsite” mostly in hospitals.

“The leading cause of death, where a cause was identified, was cancer,” wrote Epstein.

The city previously said in a statement that they “prioritized people who are older and people with chronic or terminal health conditions” to be placed in the facility since it opened.

Beckham and Dominguez say that shows the city knew these people needed more help than just housing.

“You had one medical assistant for over 100 people that’s not even there 24/7,” said Beckham.

Epstein confirmed one medical assistant was among the 17-member staff. The facility also employed 12 security guards.

Epstein said “support from nurse students and field instructors from Long Beach City College, ‘Healthcare in Action’ (mobile primary care) has been serving a few people on site and multiple people are receiving care through Echo Hospice.”

Emails obtained by NBC4 show that Duncan was alerted of the need for more medical and drug addiction assistance by Illumination Foundation executives, but the city raised concerns over costs.

Dominguez said she believes that cost lives.

“We are told that our client that passed away in July was missing the flesh from his jaw. So that speaks to the fact that he had probably passed away for a while," said Dominguez.

Dominguez left the facility in December after Beckham was fired following what they described as a heated meeting with Illumination Foundation’s CEO to address their concerns.

NBCLA reached out to Illumination Foundation for comment last week and Tuesday, but have not received a response.

Illumination Foundation ended their contract with the city in February and a new non-profit, First to Serve, Inc., has been hired to operate the facility.

For Beckham, he hopes speaking out will lead to changes for the clients left behind.

“We felt we had a duty and responsibility to those people that we saw as family to try to put them in the best conditions as possible.”

Dominguez returned to the facility with a temporary agency.

NBCLA reached out to the city and Mayor Rex Richardson Tuesday to see if there would be any investigations into the conduct or anyone held accountable. We were referred back to the city’s initial statement.

“It is incredibly sad that so many people experiencing homelessness are also facing serious medical conditions,” wrote Epstein. “We mourn every death and continue to work toward connecting people to shelter and permanent housing and providing them care and support.”

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