‘We’re not moving fast enough’: Austin City Council to consider nursing home resolution

Nursing Home Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As COVID-19 cases in nursing homes continue to climb, Austin City Council will vote on a resolution this week to dedicate resources towards the problem and try to slow the spread.

“We’re not moving fast enough,” Council member Ann Kitchen told KXAN.

She added that city leaders don’t want to wait on state or federal aide to start better addressing this issue.

Kitchen is one of the sponsors of Item 59 on Thursday’s council agenda that reads: Approve a resolution directing the City Manager to plan and collaborate with outside entities, develop, fund, and implement programs, and report status updates to Council regarding efforts to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among the residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and other vulnerable persons.

Kitchen said the move will allow them to move more quickly on implementing testing, coordinating strike forces, and taking care of workers in these facilities.

“This is like an infusion of resources and a commitment from the city in the midst of what they are doing right now. As well as getting them started on some new things,” she said.

Kitchen explained the resolution would bolster some efforts already underway:

  • Immediate testing of all staff and residents at all facilities with clusters
  • Testing of all staff at all facilities as soon as possible
  • Deploying “Strike Teams” to enhance staff resources at all facilities with clusters
  • Ensuring all facilities have sufficient PPE and testing equipment

She said the resolution also directs city staff to work on a few new items:

  • Providing for incentives and funding for hiring and retaining facility staff
  • Collaborating with the Dell Medical School to identify preventive strategies to protect residents in vulnerable facilities
  • Providing ongoing updates to the Council on results and status of actions
  • Identifying any additional actions/funding needed to prevent

Kitchen explained that right now facilities are just trying to quickly respond, but that there’s “no time to think about how to redesign things.”

She a partnership with experts at UT’s Dell Medical School and their Design Institute for Health will help assist APH and aide in developing better response programs.

“This will let us work with them to think through, ‘What could be changed? And what could be done differently in these facilities?'” Kitchen said.

Those are questions the Design Institute for Health was created to answer, according to Executive Director Stacey Chang.

“Design is a very creative process that considers the human needs of whoever you are designing it for, first and foremost,” Chang said.

He said it’s a joint partnership between Dell Medical School and the College of Fine Arts at The University of Texas at Austin. Their experts, he explained, use creative problem-solving methods to understand the needs of patients and providers and come up with better solutions.

“We develop solutions that don’t necessarily adhere to the existing beliefs of what ‘good’ should look like,” he said, adding that could even mean changing the existing systems and rules in place that govern operations like long-term care facilities.

He said the goal is to assist health officials in coming up with long-term solutions to the problems we are facing during this pandemic, as well as brainstorm other creative solutions for these facilities.

“Austin Public Health and the Health Authority are having to be very responsive to very on-the-ground, demanding situations. They don’t have the bandwidth necessary to consider the longer term trajectory and consequences of their efforts,” he explained. “We don’t want them to waste their efforts.”

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