2 more nursing home deaths linked to COVID-19

By Fernando del Valle and Steve Clark

HARLINGEN — Two more residents have died after a health care worker carried the COVID-19 virus into a nursing home and a rehabilitation center, Cameron County officials said.

On Thursday, a 90-year-old woman became the second resident to die after living at Veranda Rehabilitation and Healthcare.

Meanwhile, a 93-year-old woman died after living at Windsor Atrium, where county officials believe a Veranda health care worker introduced the coronavirus.

The deaths bring the Rio Grande Valley’s COVID-19 death toll to five.

So far, 15 Veranda residents have tested positive for the virus, including the 90-year-old woman who died and an 81-year-old man whose death was confirmed Monday.

At the nursing home where 45 tests results are pending, 12 employees and two of their relatives have tested positive for the virus.

At Windsor Atrium, nine residents have tested positive, including the 93-year-old woman whose death was confirmed Thursday.

At the rehabilitation center where six test results are pending, three employees have tested positive.

“Individuals of the two facilities who have tested positive continue to be in isolation and employees who have pending results are not working at either facility,” County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. said Thursday.

“Patients are being monitored and measures continue to be implemented to limit transmission to others, including monitoring all patients for signs and symptoms and use of (personal protective equipment) at all times,” he said.

Facilities complying with order

Earlier this week, Treviño issued an emergency management order aimed at nursing homes and rehabilitation centers.

“The facilities are adhering to the emergency management order regarding nursing homes and other long-term care facilities which was ordered by this court a few days ago,” he said.

Treviño said officials are working to determine the number of employees who worked at the two facilities.

Earlier this week, Cameron County Health Administrator Esmeralda Guajardo said officials believe a health care worker carried the coronavirus from Veranda Healthcare & Rehabilitation to Windsor Atrium.

“We’re trying to find out (the number) because we’re concerned that’s how it happened. I know they’re still doing the contact tracing on that,” Treviño said. “Cameron County continues to work with the facilities on contact tracing and testing of employees as needed.”

Concerns of staffing shortages

Treviño said officials are planning to issue an order prohibiting health care staff from working at more than one long-term care facility.

“We are going to include that in (the county’s order) but in speaking to our health authority and also physicians, we were concerned that with all (that’s) going on you potentially are already facing staffing shortages,” he said. “So then the individuals who may be ill or needing care — there may not be enough people to do that.”

Abbott makes way for nurses aides

On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an emergency rule allowing more nurses aides to care for residents in long-term care facilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

“This action will expand the eligible pool of direct care workers and help long-term care providers who may face critical staffing shortages,” a press release stated.

The rule temporarily allows nursing facilities to hire staff to provide nursing aide services without completing a full certification program during their first four months on the job.

“As Texas continues to respond to COVID-19, we are working to make sure our long-term care facilities have adequate staff to care for Texans residing in these facilities,” Abbott stated.

Harlingen orders stop to staff sharing

At Harlingen City Hall, officials have expressed concern nursing home health care workers “moving between different nursing homes and long-term care facilities” are behind a “spike” in COVID-19 cases.

On Sunday, Dr. Michael Mohan, the city’s newly appointed health authority, released orders prohibiting the city’s nursing homes and rehabilitation centers from sharing health care staff and transferring residents to other facilities.

“Dr. Mohan’s directive is a result of the recent spike in COVID-19 positive cases, which the city has reason to believe is being caused by the movement of health care staff and health care support staff moving between different nursing homes and long-term care facilities, as well as to and from health care facilities,” city spokeswoman Irma Garza stated in a press release.

Veranda’s response

On Monday, Veranda Administrator Jason Hess stated the nursing home continues to comply with requirements.

“As far as the recent health control directive issued by the city of Harlingen, we understand and respect the city’s position,” Hess stated.

“Several of the referenced interventions have previously been the subject of CMS or CDC guidance. With respect to those protocols, Veranda Rehabilitation and Healthcare has been fully compliant since the time the guidance was originally received (if not before),” Hess stated.

“The facility has always had a robust infection prevention and control plan in place and has expanded this plan in response to the corona virus situation,” he stated. “We are fully committed to taking action consistent with federal, state and city directives and with keeping our residents and staff safe during these challenging times.”

Windsor Atrium reaches out to families

On Sunday, Windsor Atrium Administrator Sandra Basaldua told patients’ families of two confirmed virus cases at the rehab center.

“We have just learned that two patients have tested positive for COVID-19,” she wrote. “Efforts to mange this development include following the guidelines provided by the Centers for Medicine and Medicaid Services on the restriction of visitation to essential health care personnel only which has been in place since March 13, 2020 and further guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”