Nursing home staff is going on six months of following stringent protocols and isolating residents to keep the vulnerable population safe from exposure to the novel coronavirus. But as cases continue to spike in the community, more facilities are having employees and residents test positive for COVID-19.
Nine county long-term care facilities in Brazoria County, including in Pearland, Clute, Angleton, Lake Jackson and Alvin, have had someone test positive for the coronavirus, though the virus didn’t actually make it into all the facilities. Some of those infected were already hospitalized when determined to have COVID or stayed away from work while sick.
Windsong Care Center in Pearland most notably had eight employees and 23 out of 72 residents with the virus as of Friday. At least 67 residents of the facility have tested positive and eight have died, according to Brazoria County data.
Protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of State Health Services, Texas Health and Human Services and then Brazoria County Health Department are followed as closely as possible at Windsong, owner and Administrator Vicki Morel said.
It had to be an employee who had the virus first, she said, because the residents hadn’t been anywhere and families haven’t been allowed in-person visitation since March 17.
Morel believes the residents’ pre-existing conditions skewed numbers related to COVID-19 deaths, she said.
“Just because they had a COVID diagnosis, they had other things going on, or were on hospice, so I’m not sure how accurate it would be to say that COVID was the cause of death if they weren’t feeling any COVID symptoms,” Morel said. “Nobody has been sent out of our facility needing a respirator.”
Residents and employees with COVID-19 complained of “stomach symptoms, some nausea, fluctuating blood pressure, some coughing and very few with a fever,” Morel said.
“Some of our residents have been showing positive improvements for over 60 days, and then there are fluctuating negatives and positives,” she said. “We had the state come in and do a deep cleaning, as that’s what they do, and we deep clean all the time.”
Every time there is a positive result, they continually test, Morel said.
“There were seven employees in the first test, on April 30, and I was one of the positive tests,” Morel said.
She has since recovered from the coronavirus, she said.
“For patients who have the virus, we have a complete ‘COVID Hall’ and they’re isolated together in that area,” Morel said. “And we have a ‘Semi-Stepdown Hall’ where they have tested negative at least once, and then they can move back to the regular facility after they’ve had two negatives.”
The residents who have not been affected are isolated as well, she said, adding some people continue to do window visits, though that is not health department recommended.
Residents and staff are tested for the coronavirus anytime there is a potential exposure, Retirement Center Management President David Keaton said. Retirement Center Management operates a number of communities in the state, including Carriage Inn in Lake Jackson.
Three Carriage Inn employees were reported to have tested positive for the novel coronavirus Wednesday, County Judge Matt Sebesta said, but Keaton said that didn’t spread to residents.
“We just completed a test of residents and staff, and we all came back negative,” Keaton said.
For those who tested positive, “they are out of the community and they are on a good path to be back soon,” he said.
The community also has a caregiver in self-isolation, he said.
“For staff and caregivers, if they want to come back to the facility, they have to show us two negative tests,” Keaton said. “After 14 days, they go get a test, and then we ask them to wait for five to seven days to get another test, essentially to ensure that there are no false negatives.”
Many residents are able-bodied but in their 80s, 90s or 100s and aching to see people, Keaton said.
“They haven’t been able to see anyone in a long time, and it’s important for their mental well-being to see their family members,” Keaton said. “It’s something we are working with the Texas Assisted Living Association, to find ways to allow us to figure out a safe way for families to be able to visit with each other.”
Waiting in isolation for one month is one thing, Keaton said, but communities are now going on six months.
“Yes, we do need to protect against COVID, but on the flip side, some accommodation needs to be made because lack of socialization causes depression and depression in older adults is just as deadly as COVID,” Keaton said.
The community does limited group activities, he said.
“If we try to do anything, we will bring a group of less than five, and we’ve moved to a 10-foot spacing as opposed to 6-foot,” Keaton said.
Creekside Village Healthcare in Clute is working hard to keep residents’ spirits up with creative activities that can be socially-distanced, Licensed Nursing Facility Administrator Amy Brieden said.
“We came up with hallway karaoke, and outside they do sunshine yoga that they can all do, even in wheelchairs,” Brieden said. “We have portable TVs that we wheel to people’s rooms to be able to online chat on a large TV, and it’s the next best thing to visit and touch.”
The facility allows window visits, as well as window service and Bible studies on Sundays, Brieden said.
“We have been COVID-free and we pray that we stay that way,” Brieden said. “It’s difficult, but I think it’s a testament to good routines in place and following the protocol of good PPE, and washing hands, and the universal precautions that we should do.”
Brieden said she is proud of the staff for stopping the spread and trying to limit their exposure as much as possible.
They had one resident test positive in May after being sent to CHI St. Luke’s Health Brazosport for non-COVID-related symptoms, she said, adding the test was after she was admitted to the hospital.
“From that hospital, she was sent to a different nursing facility in Houston where she passed,” Brieden said.
Should any employee test positive, the employee would be quarantined to their home and follow CDC guidelines, Brieden said.
“We would want two negative tests before they would come back to work in order to ensure that they are healthy again and are not infectious,” Brieden said. “We also test residents before they are admitted to our facility at their homes, and then they are in isolation for 14 days before they can come in.”
New employees are also tested, she said.
Other facilities reported to have residents, employees or both test positive for COVID-19 include Laurel Court in Alvin, Country Village Care in Angleton, Creekside Alzheimer’s Special Care Center, Tuscany Village and The Colonnades in Pearland and Oak Village Healthcare in Lake Jackson.