Shoreline COVID-19 quarantine site buying beer, cigarettes for patients

Apr 27, 2020, 5:29 AM | Updated: 1:59 pm

Field hospitals, Shoreline quarantine...

A pair of tents housing coronavirus patients in Shoreline. (Chris Sullivan, KIRO Radio)

(Chris Sullivan, KIRO Radio)

Your tax dollars at work! As hundreds of thousands of people are newly unemployed in our region, you should know that your dwindling family budget is buying beer and cigarettes for patients at the Shoreline COVID-19 quarantine site.

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I got a tip Thursday from a nurse:

The ‘patients’ are suspected or confirmed COVID positive homeless people awaiting test results or waiting out their quarantine periods. There is room for 140 patients with approximately 25 in house/tent now… they are GIVING (i.e. AT TAX PAYER EXPENSE) 2 beers per patient every 4 hours or 12 beers per day (you know, DTs etc) and free cigarettes as much as needed to the patients. I’ve heard this is the only way to keep the ‘patients’ within the facility. I was hoping this could be a chance for some homeless people to detox under medical supervision and get back on their feet but apparently not… I found it hard to believe…

Well, I can’t go on the air with a tip from a single source. So, Thursday evening, I found an insider who works at the site. What this person told me in a half-hour conversation confirmed what the nurse told me, and it is absolutely shocking.

My source, now confirmed by King County Health, told me they are indeed buying beer, smokes, and marijuana edibles. My source was absolutely outraged that, in a time of economic desperation for so many families in our region, that taxpayers have to buy alcohol and cigarettes for patients who are mostly from our homeless street population. It is a sweet deal for the patients, with taxpayers paying for their vices.

We broke this story on our show Friday. Right before I got off the air, I did get a response from King County Health. They confirmed that they are buying these products for the patients.

The statement, in part, reads as follow:

For those experiencing homelessness or who otherwise cannot safely isolate in their own homes, King County has established an isolation and quarantine system that provides space for people to isolate safely.

While it is important for those experiencing homelessness to have a comfortable space to recover, it is equally important that people with confirmed COVID-19 remain isolated to limit the spread of disease in the community.

During their stay at these facilities, guests are provided with everything needed in order to remain completely isolated and recover safely from illness. This includes providing food, laundry service, and access to medical care.

Patients who are at risk of alcohol withdrawal are treated medically to manage their symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal can be a life-threatening condition and for patients who are unwilling to take medication, providing alcohol to guests with alcohol use disorder reduces the risk of death for the patient, avoids unnecessary hospitalization and thus COVID-19 exposure to healthcare workers, and reduces the chance that these guests may leave before their isolation period is completed, putting the community at risk.

Similarly, guests with nicotine addiction are offered nicotine replacement (patches or gum) during isolation. For some patients, nicotine replacement is not sufficient to reduce their cravings and cigarettes may be offered when necessary to help to reduce the chance of complications from nicotine withdrawal and prevent guests from leaving. These guests are always counseled on the importance of reducing or quitting smoking, particularly when experiencing respiratory symptoms common with COVID-19.

What percentage of their “guests,” when offered a patch or gum versus actual cigarettes, do you think have chosen the patch or gum? I’m guessing zero percent.

“A very small number of guests who were otherwise unwilling to remain at the sites were provided with THC products as a last resort. However, this practice has since been revisited and discontinued,” the statement from the county continued.

When was this practice revisited and discontinued? Before or after we broke the story on our show?

“In all cases, no taxpayer money was used for any alcohol, tobacco or marijuana. Any of these items provided to guests have been paid for with private funding,” King County went on to claim.

Ah yes, private funding. This is one of the all-time great government shell games. Unless the source of the “private funding” specified their money could only be used for beer and cigarettes, then I suspect they are diverting these private funds from something much more productive to buy alcohol and nicotine.

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Again, there’s little chance the private funds were only for these products, which means they could indeed be taking taxpayer money away from other line-items at this facility that the private money could have paid for.

We always chronicle the outrageous waste of tax dollars in our region. This might have risen to the top of the list; buying beer and cigarettes for homeless addicts.

Update: King County Council Chair Rod Dembowski heard our discussion and has promised to look into it. He called in to the Dori Monson Show on Monday.

“I agree, I think with your position, that public money should not be used to purchase and then give THC or marijuana products, tobacco, and alcohol to folks staying at these sites,” he said. “It’s just not the right use of public funds and we shouldn’t be doing it.”

Dembowski said these sites are supposed to provide treatment and counseling for the patients.

“Medical care and substance use counseling and treatment needs to be provided while they’re there,” he said. “We’ve always said that would be the case. But I am not aware that that involves handing beer out, handing cigarettes out. And if it is, we’ve got to shift strategies there and shift approaches. That’s not the purpose of this site.”

Since these COVID-19 treatment sites are funded with public dollars and the council appropriates the money, the council can add conditions for the sites should they have any concerns. Dembowski is willing to add an amendment if necessary.

“If I have to, I will run an amendment on the appropriation ordinance … to make sure we’re not handing out beer, tobacco, and marijuana products funded with taxpayer money or facilitating it through any other little wink-and-nod program as you’ve outlined.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Shoreline COVID-19 quarantine site buying beer, cigarettes for patients