Quantcast
Connect with us

Coronavirus is spreading in Texas nursing homes. But the state won’t share the details.

Published

on

Families and advocates for nursing home residents are calling on Texas officials to release the numbers and names of facilities where coronavirus infection has been reported, as other states have done.

At least 320 residents and staff members at Texas nursing homes have tested positive for the new coronavirus. At least 18 people have died. And at least seven nursing homes, across five metro areas, are grappling with infections of 10 or more people.

ADVERTISEMENT

But those numbers, collected by The Texas Tribune from various public health departments and local news reports, likely underrepresent the extent of the COVID-19 outbreak in Texas nursing facilities. That’s because Texas, unlike some other states, is failing to disclose comprehensive data on nursing home residents and staffers who have fallen ill — even though state officials acknowledge they are privately tracking that data.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Texas, many of the state’s nursing homes had long records of citations related to poor infection control. And now some of those same nursing homes are seeing major outbreaks.

One Texas City facility has seen more than 80 residents and staff members test positive for the virus, and a doctor there is now using an unproven drug touted by President Donald Trump to treat residents. At least 78 people at a Lubbock facility became infected, while a San Antonio facility has had at least 67 people test positive.

Families and advocates for nursing homes residents are calling on the state to release the numbers and names of facilities where coronavirus infection has been reported. Texas officials have not released that information, though some of Texas’ 254 counties have.

“It is, frankly, my hope that there will be a public release of this information soon,” said Patty Ducayet, the state’s long-term care ombudsman who advocates for nursing home residents.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Certainly, anyone living in a facility where there is a confirmed case or even a presumed case of COVID, because they are vulnerable by nature of them living in the setting, they deserve to know,” she said. “And I think a family member, who can be a decision maker … I think they need to know.”

A spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission said the agency investigates nursing facilities for compliance with health and safety rules when there is a report of a staff member or resident testing positive for the disease.

“Protecting the health and safety of the people we serve is our top priority,” spokeswoman Kelli Weldon said in an email. “We are working closely with long-term and acute care facilities in Texas to ensure they have up-to-date, clear information on preventing infectious diseases such as COVID-19.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Weldon also confirmed that the health commission was tracking COVID-19 cases in nursing homes statewide, though she declined to release its figures.

People with chronic health problems and the elderly are at higher risk of death from COVID-19, which leaves nursing home residents especially vulnerable, experts said. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer or a weakened immune system is associated with worse health outcomes, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

ADVERTISEMENT

Texas is not the only state to see large numbers of nursing home infections. Nationwide, at least 450 nursing home deaths have been attributed to the virus as of last week, according to an Associated Press analysis. Washington, Ohio, Tennessee and Maryland all reported major outbreaks in long-term care facilities.

But Texas stands out for its limited release of information.

In New York, which has been the nation’s epicenter for COVID-19 cases, the state’s health department last week reported more than 1,000 nursing home infections and at least 179 deaths, comprising nearly 15% of the state’s reported coronavirus death toll, according to The Wall Street Journal.

ADVERTISEMENT

And in Louisiana — another growing coronavirus hot spot — nursing home fatalities account for about 16% of the state’s death toll, and state officials have regularly reported the total number of infected residents and deaths. As of last week, the state reported 60 long-term care residents had died. But officials there stopped publishing the names of nursing homes where there are clusters of coronavirus infection, according to local media reports.

In the months since the new coronavirus was first reported in China, inspectors have increased oversight of facilities with histories of infection control problems, state and federal officials said.

But even recent inspections found that more than one-third of nursing facilities nationwide did not follow hand-washing guidelines and one-fourth did not properly use personal protective equipment meant to limit the spread of the disease, federal officials said. That came as the Trump administration announced last week that nursing homes had become “an accelerator for the virus.”

About 93,000 people live in Texas nursing homes, and the vast majority of Texas’ more than 1,200 licensed nursing homes have recent citations for deficient infectious disease prevention measures. Inspectors found problems — many of them deemed minor, such as staff failing to wash hands properly or change gloves — at more than 80% of Texas nursing homes in the past three years, according to a Texas Tribune review of regulatory records.

ADVERTISEMENT

Of the 988 nursing homes that were cited for infection control and prevention, 39 were flagged by the government for having a history of serious quality issues and are subject to more frequent inspection and increasing penalties this year. Nationally, Texas has the second-highest total number of infection-related citations over the past three years with 1,855 — second only to California — and had the 11th-highest rate of citations among all states.

Difficult decisions for families

For Texans with loved ones in nursing homes, visitations have been off limits since mid-March following an order from Gov. Greg Abbott. Many have called for the state to increase transparency about which nursing homes have reported coronavirus infections as they face difficult decisions about their relatives’ care.

State guidelines published this week say nursing homes should report coronavirus cases to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and tell residents, staff and family when there is “exposure, presumptive and confirmed cases in the facility.” The state also directs nursing homes to use separate staffing teams for residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 “to the best of their ability.”

Velinda Rubio has been making FaceTime video calls a few times each week to stay in touch with her 76-year-old mother, who has Alzheimer’s and lives in a Mansfield nursing home. Her mother recently fell and fractured her shoulder, requiring her to be taken to the hospital.

ADVERTISEMENT

Rubio said she wished the state would publish a list of nursing homes with known coronavirus infections, especially after local news outlets reported cases in several nearby North Texas facilities. She said she routinely calls her mom’s facility to inquire about any coronavirus infections since she’s no longer allowed to visit in person.

On a recent call to the facility, she asked the staff, “Is there somewhere you’re going to post this? Is there an email that goes out?’” Rubio said. “They said no.”

“I am concerned,” she said. “How would I know this unless they’re honest with us when I do ask?”

For Tammy Benford, video calls have been vital to staying in touch with her mother, who is 75 and lives in an Austin nursing home.

Her mother, who had a stroke and is unable to speak, nods and gestures to her over the internet connection.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It’s still hard,” Benford said. “Just seeing her through a phone, I can’t give her a hug, I can’t touch her, I can’t comfort her.”

Some public officials, including Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, have encouraged families to remove their loved ones from nursing facilities to keep them safe from COVID-19.

But experts say those decisions should not be taken lightly.

“What are your resources to care for that person?” said Tracie Harrison, a professor of nursing at the University of Texas at Austin. “Do not rush into a decision. … Can you manage their fundamental health problem? Can you also, on top of that, keep them isolated?”

ADVERTISEMENT

Harrison said that many low-paid nursing home employees work at multiple facilities. To limit the risk of employees spreading the virus from one facility to another, nursing homes should ask them to work at only one location, she said. But doing so will come with costs to workers.

“You have to supplement their wages in order to do that,” Harrison said.

Large-scale outbreaks

In Lubbock, where the Whisperwood Nursing and Rehabilitation facility has been associated with 78 coronavirus infections and five deaths, city officials announced they would put the facility under a quarantine order to ban employees from working anywhere else.

“Those residents are really our most vulnerable and as we’re working towards trying to contain and control this disease it’s those older adults, people that would be in a nursing home are really the ones that we want to protect during this outbreak,” Katherine Wells, Lubbock’s director of public health, said in the announcement.

ADVERTISEMENT

Texas inspectors cited the facility for 10 health deficiencies, and it received an overall rating of one star out of five during its most recent inspection in 2019. One citation led to a penalty of over $7,000 after a resident suffered a fractured leg when a member of the staff tried to improperly move them.

However, in the last three years, none of the deficiencies that the Lubbock nursing home received were for infection control problems.

Phone calls to the facility were not returned. A letter shared by its management company, Creative Solutions in Healthcare Inc., said the challenges posed by COVID-19 were “unlike anything we have known in our time.”

“Creative Solutions in Healthcare, Corp. will rise to that challenge with the same commitment and resolve we have always demonstrated for those entrusted to our care,” the letter said.

ADVERTISEMENT

In Texas City, local health officials said one nursing home had more than 80 people test positive for the coronavirus.

Records show the Resort at Texas City has received an overall rating of two out five stars, with a total of 10 health deficiencies in 2019. The average in Texas last year was about seven. Over the last three years, the nursing home received one infection-related health deficiency for putting three residents at risk in 2017 by failing to practice good hygiene, such as properly washing hands and donning gloves.

In San Antonio, local health officials have reported 67 cases of coronavirus associated with the Southeast Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, including at least eight employees. Local officials said Tuesday there had been eight deaths related to COVID-19 at the facility, whose administrators had not revealed all of the deaths until county health workers made inquiries after local news reports.

The facility received a one-star rating and was cited for 17 health deficiencies in 2019. One incident involved a patient who was not treated for a lack of bowel movement, which resulted in the patient suffering fecal impaction. That led to the nursing home being cited for neglect and came with a penalty of over $62,000.

Over the last three years, Southeast Nursing and Rehabilitation Center received a total of three deficiencies related to infection prevention and control. These citations were mostly for the staff not following proper hygiene practices, including hand-washing while caring for patients.

Reached by phone, a facility spokesperson declined to comment.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

 


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Anti-masker doctor flashes gun during video chat: ‘I’d rather be carrying a gun than masking up’

Published

on

A California physician is the subject of controversy after he appeared in a video waving a handgun, saying he'd rather carry a concealed weapon than wear a mask, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Dr. Jeff Barke of Newport Beach has been a vocal opponent of mask wearing and has called for the reopening of schools and businesses. The video, which took place on September 16, also features anti-masker Peggy Hall. At one point in the conversation, Barke pulled out a 9-millimeter handgun.

“I live in Orange County, so I carry this wherever I go,” he says. “This is what I carry when I’m out in public to protect others and protect the public.

Continue Reading

2020 Election

Governors could be killing people just to help Trump’s campaign

Published

on

Are red state governors getting their people killed to help Donald Trump’s re-election chances?

This is an incredibly ghoulish question that would be absurd to ask in normal times. But these are not normal times. We know Donald Trump has staffed the top levels of his administration with people who unhesitatingly put Donald Trump’s political prospects above the well-being of the people. It is certainly plausible that Republican governors have similar priorities.

A simple test for the governors is to look at their positive test rates for the coronavirus. Test rates are a good measure of how serious the governors are in trying to bring the pandemic under control. While they can take measures to limit the actual spread, such as longer and stronger lockdowns and mask requirements, many factors determining the spread are outside their control.

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

How a self-described felon convinced officials to help him profit from the pandemic

Published

on

The video had the feel of a public service announcement, as the two elected leaders sat around a table in Austin and discussed the importance of COVID-19 testing.

It was late March, and these men were among those tasked with organizing the response to the emerging coronavirus pandemic: Ruben Becerra, the chief executive of fast-growing Hays County, just south of Austin; and Tommy Calvert, a county commissioner representing a chunk of San Antonio, about 70 miles to the south. Also present was Becerra’s chief of staff, Alex Villalobos.

The man hovering around the officials, holding a small needle in his gloved hands, was a convicted felon turned serial entrepreneur named Kyle Hayungs. Hayungs, 37, was seeking telemedicine contracts across the state. He had no official government role, but he did have access to thousands of COVID-19 antibody tests through a company he hoped to make his partner.

Continue Reading
 
 
Democracy is in peril. Invest in progressive news. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1. Go ad-free. LEARN MORE