HARLINGEN — More nursing homes are reporting coronavirus outbreaks despite Texas programs aimed at protecting patients described as the state’s “most vulnerable population.”
Cameron County health officials are reporting an outbreak at Rio at Fox Hollow, a Brownsville nursing home.
In Harlingen, the Harlingen Nursing and Rehabilitation Center found two employees have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
Meanwhile, Alta Vista Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Brownsville is reporting residents and an employee have recovered from infections, Executive Director Norma Guerrero stated Monday.
Since late last month, state programs have disinfected the state’s nursing homes while testing their residents and employees as part of a campaign aimed at preventing outbreaks.
“We’re puzzled as to how it’s still up,” said City of Harlingen Environmental Health Director Josh Ramirez, referring to new cases that have climbed this month after Gov. Greg Abbott lifted his shelter-in-place order, which mandated residents without justifiable excuses stay home.
Meanwhile, Abbott has launched a program aimed at lifting the state’s economic shutdown, allowing businesses to reopen to as much as 75% of customer capacity.
Health officials are concerned county residents described as asymptomatic because they display no symptoms might be spreading the virus.
“Some employees or patients are not showing symptoms — they’re asymptomatic,” Ramirez said. “We put very stringent guidelines to protect the nursing homes and we increased testing. But a small percentage of the population are asymptomatic, are not going to test positive. That’s the mystery of this virus.”
At Rio at Fox Hollow, five employees and 13 residents had tested positive as of Friday, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño’s office stated in a press release.
“In light of the pandemic, we have enhanced our infection control protocols in a number of ways, consistent with guidance provided by the CDC, CMS and other federal, state and local healthcare authorities,” Rio at Fox Hollow spokesman Daniel Kramer stated.
“Those enhancements include, among others, restricting non-medically necessary visits to our facility, screening employees and residents for symptoms and high temperatures, isolating persons who show signs or symptoms, and avoiding group activities where possible,” he stated.
“We take our infection control protocols very seriously, and we are in regular communication with local and state health authorities. We will continue to follow the guidance they have provided us to limit risk to residents and staff. We continue to closely monitor the health of all of our residents and staff, both for their well-being and for the well-being others in our facility,” Kramer stated.
“We have and utilize all PPE recommended by the CDC and CDPH. Fox Hollow has provided all of the necessary personal protective equipment to staff members and required its use even before the facility had any positive cases. There are assigned staff that work with COVID positive patients only,” he stated.
“Consistent with guidance from CDPH, the facility is only allowing visitors in end of life situations,” he stated.
“Facility staff updates family members and residents when there are any new positive cases in the facility, and provide a weekly status update consistent with the guidance from local, state and federal health authorities,” Kramer stated.
Meanwhile, Harlingen Nursing and Rehabilitation Center is taking steps to prevent the spread of the virus after two employees tested positive Friday.
“On Friday, we learned that two of our staff members at our Harlingen Nursing and Rehabilitation Center had tested positive for COVID-19,” Brooke Ladner, parent company Regency Healthcare’s senior vice president for business, stated. “Both employees are recovering at home and will not be allowed to return to work until medically cleared.”
The nursing home is following federal guidelines aimed at preventing the virus’ spread, she stated.
“Staff members at the facility continue to follow the enhanced infection control and prevention processes that were implemented when the pandemic began in early March,” she stated. “Some of these efforts such as closing the facility to visitors and cancelling group activities even preceded recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also issued in March.”
Meanwhile, staff is monitoring residents, Ladner stated.
“Our clinical team has implemented COVID-19 specific infection surveillance protocol and is monitoring our residents frequently for potential changes in condition,” she stated. “Cleaning and sanitizing are occurring regularly and daily throughout the facility.”
The nursing home requires staff to wear facial coverings throughout shifts and full personal protective equipment “when appropriate for the resident’s presumed level of exposure,” Ladner stated.
The nursing home, she stated, also screens staff for virus symptoms before entering the facility.
“If they present with any sign or symptom of illness, they are sent home,” she stated.
At Alta Vista, three residents and an employee have recovered, Guerrero stated.
“All of our three residents have recovered and tested negative and have returned to the community,” she stated. “Our only employee has also recovered and has also tested negative. She has also been cleared to return to work. Currently we don’t have any active cases. So currently our efforts are working and we are controlling the spread of the COVID-19 since we are currently COVID-19 free.”
In the meantime, three Cameron County nursing homes continue to battle outbreaks.
In April, a county investigation found a health care worker carried the coronavirus into Veranda Rehabilitation and Healthcare before taking it to Windsor Atrium.
At Veranda, 63 residents and 35 employees have tested positive for the virus while 11 have died as of Friday, according to Treviño’s office.
At Windsor Atrium, another Regency Healthcare nursing home, 61 residents and 39 employees have tested positive while 16 have died as of Friday, Treviño’s office stated in a press release.
Last month, Spanish Meadows in Brownsville became the scene of an outbreak after a hospital transferred a patient without symptoms to the nursing home, where the patient tested positive for the virus before being taken back to the hospital.
As of Friday, 11 residents and six employees had tested positive for the virus, including one who has died, Treviño’s office stated.