Our latest investigation shed new light about a San Diego County program that’s supposed to provide shelter to people exposed to COVID-19. 

The program uses hotels to house hundreds of people who have COVID-19 or have been exposed to it and don’t have a safe place to stay. Our reporting has uncovered that the program’s main hotel — the Crowne Plaza in Mission Valley — isn’t providing guests with the care they expected.

Crowne Plaza’s guests and workers told inewsource about security guard harassment, inadequate food for toddlers who are at the hotel with their parents and a high volume of police calls about overdoses and suicide threats.

Here’s what you need to know from our investigation:

1. A death at the Crowne Plaza wasn’t discovered for five days

Jose Angel Gomez-Camacho stayed at the Crowne Plaza in April after testing positive for COVID-19.

After checking out, the 28-year-old somehow re-entered his room, according to San Diego County Medical Examiner records. Housekeepers found him five days later on April 23. He died by suicide.

San Diego County investigated what happened but wouldn’t tell us what they found or if any changes in policy were made following Gomez-Camacho’s death.

Jorge Gomez, his brother, said he thinks the county is responsible for what happened.

“How do you not realize that there’s somebody dead in your hotel? How do you not realize that?” he said.

There have been two more deaths this year, according to the San Diego Police Department, but the details aren’t available yet.

2. Police have fielded hundreds of calls from the hotel during the pandemic

Police have responded to more than 230 calls at the Crowne Plaza since the pandemic began. That’s three times more than normal.

About a quarter of the calls were related to mental health, including suicide threats. Summaries of the calls show some guests were upset about interactions with staff or didn’t want to leave the hotel when their isolation period ended.

We need your help

Have you stayed or worked at a San Diego County public health hotel during the pandemic? You can tell us about your experience by emailing covid@inewsource.org.

A San Diego Police Department spokesperson couldn’t explain the increase in calls, which continued even after the county signed a $30 million contract with Equus Workforce Solutions, the company now overseeing all operations at the hotel. The company is supposed to conduct daily wellness checks and make sure all guests get what they need. 

An Equus representative said the company has implemented policies and trained staff to assist guests as effectively as possible.

San Diego County spokesperson Michael Workman said some guests may experience mental health issues at the hotel because they’re isolated in their rooms and may face other stressors during the pandemic. He said on-site security is supposed to “monitor any situations which may require law enforcement involvement.”

3. Multiple guests say security guards have harassed them

Two San Diegans who have stayed at the county’s public health hotels told us they’ve been harassed by security guards.

William Morris, a disabled veteran, stayed at the Crowne Plaza in November with his wife after she tested positive for COVID-19. He said a security guard attempted to hit him with a chair during a dispute about Morris’ service dog.

“I don’t know where they’re getting these guys from. I don’t know, are they pulling them off the street?” Morris said. “Because these guys are coming in … and doing a very good job of acting like thugs.”

AllState Security Services, the company providing security at the hotel, didn’t respond to interview requests.  

4. The company running the program is allegedly disorganized and doesn’t train its staff properly

Two hotel workers told us the county’s program is poorly managed and they felt unprepared to do their jobs. 

Both work for Equus, the company the county paid to run operations at the Crowne Plaza. They said they haven’t received any mental health training, even though most of the people they work with have a history of mental health issues, drug addiction and homelessness.

Turquoise Teagle, a site coordinator, said nobody’s in charge of training new staff — instead they’re told to shadow other employees. She added that staff aren’t taught when or how to connect guests with mental health services when needed.

Suicide prevention help

If you are having thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 or the San Diego Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240.

Other resources are available here.

Teagle also described other problems: Toddlers have lost weight because they can’t chew the adult food offered at the hotel, she said, and guests have gone days without receiving their medications.

Teagle said she hasn’t been to the Crowne Plaza since she was placed on leave earlier this month for raising concerns. She felt compelled to speak out because “these people need help.”

“That could be my family,” she said. “That could be my mother. That could be my aunt. That could be my uncle.”

5. County officials aren’t paying enough attention, workers say

The county’s $30 million contract with Equus was signed in July. Staff say the county isn’t aware of the problems that have cropped up since the company took over.

Teagle, who has been working at the Crowne Plaza since December, said she’s never seen a county representative visit the hotel. Another employee who started in August said the same.

The county gets its information from daily video calls with staff rather than from the guests, Teagle said.

A county spokesperson said officials conduct site visits at least once a month and are notified of any serious incidents. He added that Equus has received “several positive comments from guests at Crowne Plaza” in satisfaction surveys.

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Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Jill Castellano is a former investigative data coordinator for inewsource. When she's not deep in a spreadsheet or holed up reporting and writing her next story, she's probably hiking, running or rock climbing. She also loves playing board games and discussing the latest chapters with her book club....

Cody Dulaney is an investigative reporter at inewsource focusing on social impact and government accountability. Few things excite him more than building spreadsheets and knocking on the door of people who refuse to return his calls. When he’s not ruffling the feathers of some public official, Cody...