In letter to Governor, Travis County lawmakers demand more testing, staffing, PPE for nursing homes

Nursing Home Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The same day Gov. Greg Abbott announced plans to reopen the Texas economy, several state lawmakers wrote him a letter, demanding more be done to protect vulnerable long-term care facilities.

In the letter, members of the Travis County delegation expressed concerns that not enough was being done to protect residents and staff in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, saying they “are lacking essential state support to adequately protect their residents and the staff.”

The letter outlines four requests:

  1. Ensure that all LTC facilities have adequate and appropriate PPE and are using it
  2. Require the testing of all employees at LTC facilities with a positive COVID-19 case
  3. Provide guidance and support for the maintenance of critical staff in LTC facilities
  4. Issue clear and detailed guidance to all LTC facilities on various practices necessitated by the virus

“We just have so much to do to get this vulnerable population protected, before we move any further,” Representative Gina Hinojosa said.

In a press conference Monday, Gov. Abbott emphasized the importance of staying home for vulnerable populations, “if at all possible.” He said businesses should make accommodations for these people.

He said they are also “re-doubling” their efforts to protect elderly residents in senior-living facilities.

“The bottom line is this: the more we do to protect our vulnerable senior populations, the faster we can safely open business in Texas,” Gov. Abbott said.

The Governor’s Report to Open Texas features a Comprehensive Mitigation plan laid out by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). This plan consists of several recommendations:

Quantify the extent of the infection immediately. The plan said when a staff member or resident tests positive, the facility shall work with local and state health authorities to coordinate testing of nursing facility staff and residents.

Implement a comprehensive mitigation plan. The plan urges facilities to “initiate measures to control the infection using best practices and CDC requirements.”

Re-evaluate current COVID-19 positive facilities. The plan said facilities that already have positive cases and have not completed comprehensive testing “will need to conduct an assessment of their current infection levels.”

Appropriate isolation and placement of COVID-19 patients. They said any mitigation plans should “first and foremost” focus on containment and isolation. Residents who test positive could be
transferred to a different facility (possibly a COVID-19-positive dedicated facility) or moved to an isolated wing of their facility.

Implement enhanced access controls to the facility. The plan said facilities should limit unnecessary visitors, and keep medical partners from interacting with both positive and non-positive patients.

Enhance control of staff access to the facility. The plan urges facilities to “discourage staff and employees from working at multiple facilities.”

Effective notifications. The plan calls for any who interacted (or may have recently interacted) with a facility with positive patient to be informed.

Continue prevention efforts in facilities that do not have an infection. Even when no positive cases have been identified, the plan states that all facilities will undergo infection control assessments, to ensure they are in compliance with guidance from national and state health experts.

“We are absolutely asking for more,” Rep. Hinojosa said, adding there’s not enough emphasis on filling the gaps in staffing or on making sure staff have adequate protective gear.

She said it was a “wild west” situation in terms of getting PPE and testing.

“There are some localities with the resources to get more for their consituants,” she said.

She told KXAN they hope the state can come up with a more uniform, equitable response for facilities across the state.

“I mean the truth is — we don’t have enough tests,” she said. “Ideally every staff member would be tested with a quick turnaround test before their shift starts. We are not nearly there yet.”

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