Many nursing home patients recovering; Despite some deaths, toll under national average

HARLINGEN — Like Debbie Dunn Reilly’s 86-year-old mother, many patients in two Harlingen nursing homes are apparently recovering from the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, three of the approximately 80 patients infected with the COVID-19 virus at Veranda Rehabilitation and Healthcare and Windsor Atrium died earlier this week, Cameron County health officials said.

“I think it’s an amazing thing that people are surviving and coming out of this,” Reilly, a Harlingen businesswoman, said Wednesday.

“She seems happy and she’s doing well and she’s being treated well,” she said of her mother.

So far at the two nursing homes, the number of deaths has been dramatically lower than the national rate of 30 to 35 percent at nursing homes with patients infected with the virus, County Health Administrator Esmeralda Guajardo said.

“It’s a population that’s so vulnerable,” she said. “That people over 80 are surviving — for us that’s the best news.”

On Wednesday, Mayor Chris Boswell was trying to determine the number of nursing home patients who are recovering.

“There have been some increases in the numbers of recoveries,” Josh Ramirez, the city’s health director, said. “That’s a great sign for us.”

Some patients who contracted the virus nearly two weeks ago are now close to the end of the virus’ 14-day quarantine period, Boswell said.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that a lot of residents that contracted the virus are going to survive,” he said.

Among the nation’s most vulnerable populations, many nursing home patients are recovering.

“People are in nursing homes for a reason, mostly for medical assistance, which means they pretty much have underlying conditions and this virus hits them the hardest — but that doesn’t mean they don’t recover,” Guajardo said.

Nursing homes ‘vigilant’

Tragedy mars the city’s nursing homes’ cases.

An investigation found a health care worker carried the virus into Veranda before taking it to Windsor, Guajardo said.

As of Tuesday night, 56 patients, including five who have died, and 26 employees, had contracted the virus at Veranda, county officials stated.

Meanwhile, 24 patients, including three who have died, and 29 employees had contracted the virus at Windsor.

Earlier this month, County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. issued an emergency management order aimed at setting nursing homes procedures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.

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

“The staff is very vigilant,” Guajardo said. “These nursing homes — I give them a lot of credit. They’re working with short staffs and they can lose (infected employees) for weeks. They’re doing everything they can.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an emergency rule allowing more nurses aides to care for residents in long-term care facilities during the virus outbreak.

“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.

A daughter’s praise for staff

For about two weeks, Reilly and other family members have struggled to cope with the growing number of nursing home patients infected with the COVID-19 virus.

“I think they’re doing a good job,” she said. “They are keeping the majority of patients in their rooms in quarantine. They’re doing everything they can with what they’ve got to work with. They’re under a lot of stress. I know they’ve lost a lot of staff. They’re not getting the recognition they deserve.”

Reilly blamed the news media for spreading misinformation about the virus.

“This is just a different type of the flu virus,” she said. “The media’s putting out fear and panic.”

At Veranda and Windsor, staff declined comment.

fdelvalle@valleystar.com