Health Officials Deny Claim of MRSA Outbreak

Posted January 4, 2017 by The Argonaut in News

Word of the disease spreading among the homeless in Venice began with a nonprofit service provider and was amplified by a neighborhood activist seeking public office

By Gary Walker

Lava Mae’s mobile hygiene trailer includes three bathing compartments, each with a shower, toilet and sink
Photo By Maria Martin

Los Angeles County public health officials are pushing back against a rumor that a virulent strain of antibiotic-resistant bacterium is spreading rapidly among the homeless in Venice and may pose a risk to others.

In a Dec. 30 email blast, the Venice Stakeholders Association asserted that at least half a dozen homeless people who had utilized a mobile shower trailer near Rose and Third avenues showed signs of being infected with MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus).

Titled “MRSA Outbreak at 3rd and Rose,” the press release attributes that information to a representative of Lava Mae, the nonprofit organization that began offering the showers in November.

It quotes Lava Mae Los Angeles Branch Director Jasmin Mouflard-Kozowy as saying: “We saw six individuals who were taking drugs to treat MRSA and another three people who have the open sores that suggest they also are infected with the staphylococcus bacteria. While we are not health care professionals, we concluded that at least the six who have been prescribed with drugs to treat the bacteria have MRSA.”

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has investigated the claim and refutes the assertion of a MRSA outbreak in Venice.

“Physicians are required to report MRSA cases to public health. No outbreaks for MRSA have been reported to public health at this time,” reads an email statement by the department. “It is important to note that MRSA cannot be diagnosed by visual inspection; a clinical evaluation and lab testing is required for diagnosis. Other bacteria and conditions can cause signs/symptoms that are similar to MRSA.”

The Venice Family Clinic, which is headquartered on Rose Avenue and provides primary health care to low-income and indigent residents, has treated MRSA among the local homeless population but refuted claims of an outbreak.

“Our chief medical officer can confirm that, compared to the housed population, there have been higher (and steady) prevalence rates of MRSA. However, there has not been a recent outbreak,” reads a statement by Venice Family Clinic spokeswoman Rachel Lichtman.

Mouflard-Kozowy could not be reached to discuss the statements attributed to her. Instead, Lava Mae spokeswoman Deborah Schneider said the nonprofit could neither “confirm nor deny the existence of MRSA in our guests,” but did confirm that Mouflard-Kozowy had discussed MRSA at a recent Venice Neighborhood Council meeting.

The Venice Stakeholders Association has been relentlessly critical of city action, or lack thereof, to address rampant homelessness in Venice. The group has sued the city for allowing homeless encampments to persist along the Venice Boardwalk.

Venice Stakeholders Association President Mark Ryavec is also one of two candidates running to unseat L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin in the upcoming March election. Ryavec has been critical of Bonin’s efforts to reduce homelessness in Venice through a combination of more vigorous police patrols and an expansion of social services and affordable housing resources.

In a telephone interview, Ryavec said that he spoke with Mouflard-Kozowy prior to disseminating the Venice Stakeholders Association press release and that she confirmed to him that what he wrote was accurate.

“I was simply reporting what the Lava Mae director told me during a 20-minute phone conversation. It was her conclusion that there were six cases of MRSA on Third Street,” Ryavec said.

Bonin, who welcomed Lava Mae to Venice in November, has issued his own statement that misinformation, not MRSA, is what’s spreading in Venice.

“At a recent community meeting, when discussing the benefits of providing people living on the street basic hygienic services, a Lava Mae employee mentioned that some of the people who Lava Mae serves in Venice had prescriptions for medication to treat staph infections. This mention of medication has fueled a rumor that quickly spread in Venice about an outbreak of staph infections,” Bonin wrote in an email to The Argonaut.

“My office looked into the rumor immediately, and we have been in touch with Lava Mae, county Supervisor Shelia Kuehl’s office, the Venice City-County-Community Outreach Team and the nurse practitioner housed at Venice Family Clinic, who works with this population in Venice,” Bonin continued. “People living on the streets are at risk of disease and infection, but all relevant officials assure us there is no abnormal incident of illness in Venice. “

Lava Mae’s Schneider stated that Mouflard-Kozowy was passing along second-hand information as a means of describing the range of community benefits resulting from Lava Mae’s work.

“Our Los Angeles branch director shared information she received from a partner regarding an outbreak of MRSA among the homeless in Venice, and she detailed Lava Mae’s protocols for sanitizing our units,” Schneider explained. “Lava Mae not only provides an opportunity for people moving through homelessness to access a basic, essential service, but because good hygiene helps contain and prevent the spread of contagious diseases, we mitigate public health challenges for the broader community.”

Bonin indirectly accused Ryavec and the Venice Stakeholders Association of trying to undermine both Lava Mae’s work and the city’s.

“Inexplicably, some people have used this rumor as an argument against providing services to the homeless. Rather, I believe that this situation highlights the urgent need to help people who are forced to live on the street by providing them services such as basic hygiene and medical care, as well as resources that will help connect them with housing opportunities,” he wrote.

Ryavec denied that he was intentionally trying to mislead anyone. He said he sent the email “in the interest of public safety and community service,” and it was Mouflard-Kozowy, not him, who first mentioned MRSA.

“I would have investigated this issue and released the press release whether I was running for office or not,” he added.



    rick swinger

    The truth is that as of today no Los Angeles Health Doctors have tested anybody on 3rd for MRSA. When they will come down and do a proper investigation is not known. Before anyone says they know anything about an outbreak of MRSA a team of RN’s should conduct a non bias survey on 3rd. I have witnessed and photographed Feces and Pollution on 3rd and Rose that would be the perfect breeding area for bacteria like MRSA. My recent picture of the porta potties on 3rd (1/4/17) covered in human feces should tell any expert that 3rd and Rose is a hot zone for diseases and should be investigated. Until a team of professional doctors and RNs comes down to 3rd and investigates this very likely outbreak of MRSA we won’t have a chance of curtailing this possible epidemic. This is not rocket science. This is common age old Pollution,Homelessness, Blight and Mosquitos that quite frankly our City and County Government has not wanted to deal with for quite some time!


    For more pictures of the Pollution in Venice Please go to my website at..


    C’mon Bonin – that’s a manipulative response that smacks of “fake news.” The social services outreach organizations in Venice (who are funded to the tune of $14 million a year to address homelessness in Venice) have reported to many concerned residents that it is too dangerous for their outreach teams to interact with the homeless population encamped at 3rd and Rose. While I don’t personally understand their reasons for claiming that outreach is too dangerous for their trained employees, I can assume that it’s due to unpredictable behavior, potential for exposure to disease, and/or both.

    Where your comment is particularly misleading is your claim that “people have used this rumor (MRSA) as an argument against providing services for the homeless.” Au contraire Councilman, virtually every single resident of Venice wants the City to direct the existing $14 million of annual funding to house the homeless in Venice NOW. Not five years from now. NOW. There are opportunities to house every single homeless person in Venice right NOW. Consider the SHARE model NOW. Look at augmenting funding for HUD’s Section 8 program and use available housing NOW. Convert existing City-owned buildings to housing NOW. And don’t tell me you can’t house the homeless in Venice NOW. Look at what other Cities have accomplished in similar situations. And if you want a more local example, just look at how many homeless the Venice Homeless Task Force/FourSquare Church manage to move off the streets and house on a shoestring budget. That’s real news.


      Heidi You are beautiful! Well Said and That the Truth!

      Jiminy Cricket

      This whole comment is silly.

      Street outreach 5 days a week on 3rd. SJC employees are part of the team.

      The second half of your comment has so many silly statements I will try to address all of them.

      How do you think the money is being put off into the future? That is such a silly thing to say – of course it is being spent now. SPY doesn’t have a big rainy day fund. Silly.

      Mike has been very supportive of SHARE as much as a City Council can be without direct control over how funding is allocated. Silly.

      Yeah address reforms on a federal program to the City Councilmember. That makes sense. Silly.

      What City Owned buildings do you think the government owns in Venice that are hanging out vacant? Besides – you oppose housing near you – if a site was identified i’m sure you’d be on social media trying to look important by posting about how terrible it is. Silly.

      Foursquare is great – Wellers are rockstars – they rarely house within a 5 mile radius because rents are so high (duh) and I think they would be the first to say their model is built on trust and not easily replicated.

      I get that you now get your feeling of importance/significance by being an anti – I get it – humans look to feel important. But to be real – the world needs fewer of those people and more doers. Also more people who have more than a vague idea of how things work – learn how the County and State and Federal governments matter – learn how LAHSA matters – learn more. The Councilmember doesn’t pull all the funding strings – if you don’t know that it is probably because you already think you know everything and stopped listening to anyone a few years ago. Stop being so silly/irresponsible about it all and mature a little 🙂


    Bonin was right about Ryavec, he was just in the wrong by implying that his (and the city’s) deficient homeless relief efforts are something substantial and worthy of attack. Most people I know already knew there wasn’t an outbreak mostly based on Ryavec’s tendency to spread fear and misinformation. The way it all played out starting with the first random comment about MSRA from the man who spoke at the VNC meeting and ending with this political pie in Ryavec’s face you would think the initial mention at the meeting was just bait for Ryavec to shoot himself in the foot with his homeless hater gun.

    venice human

    According to CDC one-third of everybody in America is a carrier of staph. Staph looks just like MRSA in early stages.

    But what really infects Venice is real estate greed–a deadly mental parasite that enters ones body through the ear and is carried upon the hot air of unregulated developers and internet moguls. An undocumented wildly inflated fear-mongering rumor is that the Venice Stakeholders Association has refused to allow any testing of its hive for this dangerous pathogen.


    It is NOT a rumor when the information comes directly from Lava Mae reps during a presentation of their services at a monthly neighborhood council meeting. Watch the video for yourself at the 38th minute.

    No one is trying to undermine the services for the homeless. Lava Mae showers are very helpful and can be successful if they can figure out a schedule that doesn’t coincide with the Friday morning Sanitation/LAPD cleaning sweep. (that’s a whole other topic).

    I’ve lived around the world and have never seen the needs of the taxpayers, business owners and home owners ignored like I have seen in here in Venice. All that is being requested is that the city be held responsible for creating the unsafe and unhealthy environment created by allowing these encampments to happen the first place.

    The community simply wants their elected officials to act on a viable threat to their health and well-being and given assurances that it’s being taking care instead of getting a finger waved in their face telling them their wrong and stop complaining. What we are seeing here is a whole lot of spin instead of the kind of action that would create those assurances.

    Mark Herd for L.A. City Council CD5

    TOTAL FAKE NEWS TO COVER FOR BONIN!! I lived in Venice for several years and know many homeless people who had it. It’s ALL OVER THE PLACE! #MoreCreamPlease. Stop covering for CORUPT POLITIANS SPINSTERS! @voteherd


    Bonin once again coming out WITH a useless statement, disavowing responsibility for his own in-action. Boil the complications down to the basics. Bonin has done nothing—ZERO–to address the homeless epidemic in Venice. He has allowed encampments to grown in our residential neighborhoods. He has told the police to “stand down” in addressing the situation. The human feces in the streets on 3rd and Rose is beyond belief, but there is now human feces all over town and used needles everywhere.. The Venice Boardwalk is now the largest open air drug market, and encampments are everywhere–by Ralphs, where we shop. Behind Electric Lodge, and now in our alleyways.
    Here is the undisputable truth– no new housing for homeless in Venice has been built. The homeless population continues to grow. Staph infections and MRSA exist and will only get worse. Everything falls onto our backs, as Bonin does NOTHING.
    Shame on Bonin, and shame on the press, for their biased and inaccurate reporting.
    Ryavec is on the right side of this argument

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