Coronavirus testing at nursing homes not yet complete, over 100 locations outstanding

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Testing is nearing completion, but there are still more than 100 nursing homes in Texas with residents and employees that have not been tested for coronavirus, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Gov. Greg Abbott ordered complete testing at all facilities on May 11.

HHSC said 1,108 of the state’s 1,224 facilities have been tested, or just over 90%. There are also 24 facilities currently undergoing testing.

As the Texas Health & Human Services Commission refuses to disclose the number and locations of positive COVID-19 cases among nursing and living facilities, KXAN investigators have verified viewer tips and confirmed whistleblower accounts independently throughout Central Texas.

Abbott issued the order for testing over three weeks ago. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Texas Division of Emergency Management, and the Texas Department of State Health Services were directed test “100%” of nursing home residents and employees.

Abbott’s order was part of a statewide, and national, effort to slow the coronavirus infection and death rate in nursing homes.

More than third of Texas nursing homes have reported at least one case of the virus. The total number of nursing homes with cases jumped up 3% since Monday and is now at 441 facilities, as of Wednesday. There has been a total of 4,113 cases, 692 deaths and 1,284 recoveries in all Texas nursing homes, according to HHSC.

The cost of one round of testing in every Texas nursing facility would exceed $29 million, according to an analysis by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living.

Abbott’s May 11 order does not include testing the 2,004 assisted living facilities in the state, which have reported cases of coronavirus at 129 locations with 111 deaths, as of June 1, according to HHSC.

Assisted living facilities and nursing homes are also called long-term care facilities. Nursing homes typically focus more on medical supervision and care provided by licensed nurses than assisted living facilities, according to the National Institute of Aging. Coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, is most dangerous for elderly people and those with existing health conditions.

‘Inadequate testing’

According to experts with the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, widespread testing in nursing homes is critical because asymptomatic transmission of the virus has been a key driver in nursing home infections.

“Given asymptomatic spread and inadequate testing, staff often do not know which residents are infected,” according to R. Tamara Konetzka, a professor of health economics and health services research at the University of Chicago. “With policymakers and the public initially focused on the spread of infection within hospital settings, nursing homes often lost that competition.”

Konetzka’s remarks were provided as testimony to the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging on May 21.

It is not clear which nursing homes in Texas have reported cases to local and state health authorities because they will not release coronavirus case information on specific facilities. HHSC has blocked requests for that information, saying it is prohibited by medical privacy law from releasing it. Without a comprehensive list of locations, KXAN has independently verified facilities that have reported cases of the virus in Central Texas. We discovered nearly 20 facilities with cases after following up on tips received from concerned viewers. You can view the map below.

KXAN filed an official public information request with HHSC for a list of facilities with cases. HHSC stated the records are exempt from disclosure and asked for a ruling from the Office of the Attorney General, which could take months to resolve.

The federal government, however, has already released a full list of all nursing homes that have reported coronavirus cases. You can read about that data, and view a map of it, here.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) have been collecting nursing home coronavirus data for weeks. There have been over 60,000 cases of the virus in nursing homes and 26,000 deaths across the country, according to a CMS news release this week.

There are 15,400 nursing homes nationwide funded by Medicare and Medicaid, and, as of May 24, 80% of them had reported the required data to CDC.

“Early analysis shows that facilities with a one-star quality rating were more likely to have large numbers of COVID-19 cases than facilities with a five-star quality rating,” the release read. “CMS will take enforcement action against the nursing homes that have not reported data into the CDC as required under CMS participation requirements.”

KXAN previously reported nearly 30 Austin-area facilities had at least one deficiency related to preventing infection in the past 3 years, and more than half of these facilities received multiple infection control deficiencies, according to federal inspection records.

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