UPDATE: This article has been updated to include additional information on the application process and program.

Original Post:

AUSTIN (KXAN) – State officials will soon begin distributing $3.5 million in federal money to Texas nursing homes for plexiglass partitions and tents that will help residents and their families have in-person visits, according to a Friday news release from Gov. Greg Abbott.

Nursing facilities will be able to apply through the Texas Health and Human Services Commission for the federal money beginning Oct. 5. Each facility will be eligible to receive up to $3,000 for the supplies, according to the announcement made by Abbott and HHSC.

“This funding will enhance the health and safety of nursing facility residents and their families as facilities across the state welcome essential caregivers and other visitors,” said HHSC Executive Commissioner Cecile Erwin Young said in a prepared statement.

There is no specified end date for the application period, according to HHSC. It is not clear how long the applications will take to approve, an HHSC spokesperson said that will depend on the number of applications received, if they are complete and “how quickly a signed contract is received back from the facility,” the spokesperson said.

The nursing homes will receive the money in the form of a reimbursement once they submit an invoice to HHSC. The application for the program is available here.

Problems with nursing home visitation rules and implementation have been brewing for months. In March, HHSC stopped nearly all non-essential visitors from entering nursing homes, with only some exceptions for extreme situations, such as a resident’s end of life.

HHSC announced on Aug. 6 that nursing homes could apply for limited visitation. However, there were numerous conditions a nursing home had to meet to allow visitation, and many nursing homes weren’t able to bring in visitors.

In June, the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Patty Ducayet told KXAN, “We are reaching a kind of boiling point. Family members feel it has been too long, and I agree that residents are too isolated at this point.”

Families and experts say the psychological toll of isolation on nursing home residents can lead to physical deterioration. KXAN has received a steady stream of calls and emails from Central Texans frustrated they have not been able to visit their loved ones in nursing homes for months.

In early September, Marcy Renneberg and another family sued Abbott, HHSC and three nursing homes over the visitation restrictions. The plaintiffs in that case argued the state government was “violating constitutional and statutory rights” of nursing home residents and their families by restricting access. Renneberg called the isolation “cruel” and “tormenting.” That case remains pending in Travis County District Count.

KXAN found that by Sept. 11 only 57 of the state’s more than 1,200 nursing homes had applied for visitation, and only 36 facilities had been approved, according to HHSC records.

On Sept. 17, the state announced it would loosen visitation restrictions further by allowing residents to have designated “essential family caregivers” who would be trained to enter the facilities during scheduled appointments.

The $3.5 million announced by Abbott and HHSC will be taken from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service’s Civil Money Penalty (CMP) funds. Those funds originate from penalties paid by nursing facilities that are found to be out of compliance with federal standards, according to the news release.

It is not clear how soon the applications will be processed and the money delivered. KXAN has requested more information on the timing of the money distribution, and we will update this report when more information becomes available.

On June 4, 2020 – months after the coronavirus pandemic began in the United States and medical experts expressed concerns over people living in nursing homes – the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began publicly releasing data and results from targeted inspections of such facilities conducted by the agency since early March. While initial reporting appears incomplete and the agency acknowledges the likelihood of occasional human error, it also offers a more complete look at the virus’ spread within this vulnerable population. Stricter accountability in the reporting is expected in the future with the goal of further enhancing and updating the data regularly. KXAN will continue to update this map, as more details become available. Read more about this data.