While one of the most vulnerable segments of the population affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic worldwide has been senior citizens and assisted living facilities, local nursing homes in Del Rio are reporting the first COVID-19 cases among residents and staff.
Following Centers for Medicare and Medicaid guidelines, all nursing homes restricted visitation of visitors and non-essential health care personnel since mid March, however, the virus found its way into these facilities, as the number of confirmed cases and deaths is showing.
As of Thursday, the COVID-19 contagion has affected more than 1,100 Del Rioans, with 22 deaths in the community overall, while the number of active cases in nursing homes has reached 14, with 21 suspected, and one death.
County officials are asking state officials to intervene and assess local nursing facilities.
Val Verde County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr. said Wednesday he has asked a state inspector to assess the COVID-19 situation in at least two long-term care facilities in Del Rio.
Owens said he asked for the state inspection after hearing reports that some nursing homes were allowing employees who had either tested positive or who had COVID-19 symptoms to return to work without clearance from the local health authority.
“The state had come in several weeks ago (May 30, May 31 and June 1) and did testing for all employees and all the patients at all the nursing homes. At that point, only one individual, a staff member, tested positive, and that individual could not believe that they had tested positive, so that individual was retested, not only the nasal swab but the blood antibody test, and both of those tests came back negative,” Owens said Wednesday.
A chart of positive COVID-19 tests on the county’s web site showed 441 persons tested, with one positive result.
Owens said, though, he recently has heard reports that employees at two local nursing homes have also tested positive for COVID-19.
“Looking through the data that we have here at the county, we found that those were true reports, and we did have a phone call from one of the nursing homes that there was a staff member there who had tested positive, and we have had reports also that now there are patients in the nursing homes who are positive,” Owens said.
The News-Herald confirmed that all three local facilities in town have recorded either staff, residents, or both, testing positive for the infectious disease, according to the facilities themselves and records posted by the National Healthcare Safety Network system.
In response to the public health crisis, new federal reporting regulations went into effect May 8 for individuals and entities that provide services to Medicare, Medicaid, Basic Health Program, and Exchange beneficiaries.
Long-term nursing facilities report suspected and confirmed COVID-19 infections among residents and staff, including residents previously treated for COVID-19, deaths and COVID-19 deaths.
Nursing facilities must submit the data through the National Healthcare Safety Network at least once every seven days.
Owens said he had also heard reports about nursing home employees who had tested positive returning to work before they were cleared by the local health authority, Dr. J.J. Gutierrez.
“One of the complaints that was sort of hard to live with was that an employee who had tested positive was told to come back to work before he was cleared by the local health authority,” the judge said.
Owen emphasized the local health authority is the only person who can “clear” an individual to come out of quarantine and return to their day-to-day routine.
“The question also has been asked, the individuals who tested positive, are they being retested in order to be able to go back to work, and the answer to that is that if the company they work for is requiring it, it’s up to the company, but in order to be ‘cleared,’ it’s a 14-day process from the day that you were tested and 72 hours without symptoms. It’s a two-pronged approach,” Owens said.
“The issue that we were having, especially with one of the nursing homes, was that they had asked people to come back to work before the 14 days was up, and they said that it was OK,” he added.
Owens said he personally believes there are issues with several local nursing homes.
“Is there an issue? In looking at the numbers, I personally believe, as Val Verde County judge and looking at the data that we have, we have one nursing home that there’s cases there, both patients and employees,” Owens said.
He declined to identify the nursing home by name.
“I will tell you, though, that two of the nursing homes have been reported to the state, and it’s my understanding they were reported yesterday (Tuesday), and the state will be sending someone to come visit them within the next 24 hours,” Owens said.
He confirmed the state representative “will determine what the situation is” at those nursing homes and report the findings to the local health authority.
“Our hands are tied to an extent. If we could fine them, if we could do more to them, we would, but what we can do is report them to the state and get the state to come down and go through them,” the county judge said.
Owens said he spoke Tuesday with a local medical doctor who works in conjunction with one of the nursing homes.
“He told me that at the nursing home where he works, they have a process: They test people that are symptomatic, and if they have symptoms, they’re isolating them if they’re the patients, and if they’re employees, they have to go home and isolate. They have a process in place,” Owens said.
He said the representative of the state will make a report to the local health authority.
“They will come back and let us know what their findings are and what is it that we need to do. They’ll tell us what, in their opinion, needs to happen,” Owens said.
He added the county’s COVID-19 team is looking at getting more testing for area nursing homes’ staff and residents.
The Del Rio News-Herald contacted Val Verde Nursing and Rehabilitation, La Vida Serena Nursing and Rehabilitation and Del Rio Nursing and Rehabilitation Center to ask administrators about positive COVID-19 test results in their respective facilities.
Val Verde Nursing and Rehabilitation Administrator Elizabeth Elizalde De Calderon said as of Wednesday, two staff members and no residents have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The National Healthcare Safety Network system COVID-19 for long-term care facilities is reporting 18 suspected COVID-19 residents at Val Verde Nursing and Rehabilitation as of Friday morning, the figures correspond to the week ending on July 12.
La Vida Serena also reported confirmed cases. Leila Jones, director of social media for Creative Solutions in Healthcare, on Wednesday said, “We do have active cases associated with our facility (La Vida Serena). At this time we are reporting the number of staff and resident cases only to the proper health authorities and regulatory agencies.”
Jones added staff and residents were recently tested. “Many of those tests are still pending,” she said.
She also noted, “Employees who have recovered must first be cleared by the local health department before they are able to return to work.”
As of Friday morning, COVID-19 National Healthcare Safety Network records listed one resident confirmed, with no COVID-19-related deaths at La Vida Serena.
Del Rio Nursing and Rehabilitation Center’s parent company, Touchstone Communities, is self-reporting as of Friday morning seven active cases and one death among residents. They are also reporting four active cases among staff with six recovered and no deaths.
Online records posted by the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network system COVID-19 Long Term Care Facility Module state as of the week ending on July 12, Del Rio Nursing and Rehabilitation Center had one confirmed COVID-19 positive resident, three more suspected, and one death.