AUSTIN (KXAN) – The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ weekly nursing home coronavirus data collection effort has expanded to include new information in recent weeks, and the additional metrics have revealed more troubling issues in Texas’ senior facilities.
CMS data has already shown Texas nursing homes struggling with staffing shortages. When compared to other states, the new data shows Texas has high numbers and percentages of facilities reporting they do not have resources to quickly test residents and staff and many have not recently tested residents and staff. The data also shows Texas has a comparatively high number of facilities reporting residents with new signs of the virus, among other issues.
As the coronavirus pandemic rolls on, the trends highlight the daunting task of improving preparedness and care in senior facilities, which have been at the epicenter of coronavirus deaths. Over 3,500 nursing home residents have died of coronavirus, and more than 84% of nursing homes in the state have had at least one case among staff or residents, according to Texas Health and Human Services Commission records.
“The fact that the majority of nursing homes are saying that they haven’t tested their staff in the past week, and Texas is still going through a COVID-19 outbreak, that leads me to believe that many nursing homes in Texas are not in compliance with CMS’ requirements,” said Cissy Sanders, the daughter of Austin nursing home resident and proponent for increased virus testing in senior facilities.
Sanders become an outspoken advocate for more coronavirus testing in nursing homes after an outbreak in early April at her mother’s facility, Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in East Austin. Sanders’ advocacy resulted in a testing pilot program at Riverside, and she has continued to push local leaders and lawmakers to expand testing at both nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
“Testing gives you the data. It gives you the answers that you need in order to fight the virus, and in order to keep the virus at the front door and not let it come into the nursing home. There’s no other protective measure that’s going to give you that data and that assurance,” she added.
Sanders said she feels it is critical to test nursing home staff regularly, because they are the most likely people to carry the virus into a facility.
In regards to the ability to test staff and employees, 85% of nursing homes reported they would be “able to test or obtain resources to test all staff and/or personnel within next 7 days.” However, only 34% of facilities reported they have tested staff or personnel since the last report, according to CMS.
While 68% of Texas facilities reported they had not tested residents since the previous week’s CMS report, 87% of Texas nursing homes indicated they could test all residents within the next week. For context, Texas ranked 47 out of 50 states, tied with Nevada for having one of the lowest percentage of nursing homes able to test all residents within seven days.
Also, just 14% (163 of 1,128) of Texas nursing homes indicated they had “tested residents with new signs or symptoms.”
The data collected in CMS’ most recent survey date back to Aug. 23, because there is a roughly two-week delay in reporting.
Statewide, 88% of nursing facilities reported they have tested staff and personnel that have shown new signs or symptoms.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and the data points referenced have unmasked the issues the nursing home profession in Texas continues to struggle with in fighting the virus,” said Kevin Warren, President and CEO of the Texas Health Care Association. “Particularly, as the federal government is now requiring regular testing based upon county positivity rates, concerns regarding the lack of testing supplies, the availability of lab capacity, and the need for continued resources remain problematic.”
Warren said low medicaid reimbursement rates and staff shortages have added to and exacerbated the challenges facing nursing homes. Warren’s organization, THCA, works on behalf of long-term care facilities.
“We are seeing promising improvements as the number of facilities with outbreaks in Texas continues to decline and the number of recovered residents continues to increase,” Warren said. “Our hope is that these continued efforts will expedite the ability to expand much needed visitation guidance and reconnect families with their loved ones. “