Worker at Brookdale Senior Living in West Lake Hills tests positive for COVID-19

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Editor’s Note:  The video originally included in this article showed scenes from a facility that is not connected with this story.  Those scenes have been removed.

AUSTIN (KXAN) – An associate at Brookdale Senior Living in West Lake Hills has tested positive for COVID-19. The senior living community said it learned of the positive test Thursday, according to a statement from a company spokesperson.

“We have informed residents, their family members, and associates of the community of this matter. We are diligently monitoring our residents and associates for signs and symptoms, and we continue to work directly with local health officials to help ensure our residents and associates have the appropriate and necessary medical support,” Heather Hunter, a public relations manager with Brookdale, said in an email.

Hunter said the company has followed local and federal health department policies and procedures for contagious illnesses. The associate that tested positive will not be allowed to return until they have tested negative for the virus.

Brookdale West Lake Hills, which is located in West Austin, provides assisted living, independent living and skilled nursing services, according to its website.

COVID-19 is caused by the novel coronavirus and has rapidly spread across the country. There have been over 85,000 confirmed cases in the US.

Elderly people and those with underlying medical conditions are the most vulnerable to the disease, according to the U.S. Centers For Disease Control.

How the industry is preparing

As the Executive Director for the Texas Organization of Residential Care Homes (TORCH), John Darby works with smaller, boutique assisted living facilities than a national company like Brookdale.

He said the industry as a whole has been bracing themselves for the impact of COVID-19, after a deadly outbreak at a Seattle facility.

“It’s a tragic situation that really shook the industry at its core,” Darby said.

He said Texas homes had already been collaborating ideas and taking proactive measures. Then, guidelines from Health and Human Services added another layer of protection, restricting any non-essential guests from entering these facilities.

Darby said it was a safe move, but a difficult one.

“So for you and I, and for most of us, we get to be isolated with the people we love,” Darby said. “For people in an assisted living facility, the very point of isolation is that I’m not going to have my family with me.”

When it comes to medical personal and employees, though, Darby said it’s harder to monitor.

“The added difficulty is that most of the medical care comes from outside,” he said, contrasting the care with that of a hospital. “The nurse that delivers care might go to four different facilities.”

He wants people to remember, their residents are some of the most at-risk, so their employees are often in a very difficult situation.

“The caregivers get into this industry because they care. They often develop a relationship with their residents and they become surrogate family, if you will. So now, you see ‘You’re not my grandma, but it sure feels like it, and could I possibly have been exposed?'”

He said he’s heard concerns industry-wide about a dwindling workforce. He’s also seen facilities struggle to get the proper personal protective equipment.

“We’ve got all of the same issues that the hospitals are having. It’s just as important for us to have the masks and the gloves and the gowns,” he explained. “Because we are not on the front lines of the testing and we are not considered first responders, it’s easy to overlook the gravity of the situation.”

KXAN Investigates started looking into this story because of a tip. If you’ve got an issue you would like to be investigated, submit your tips here.

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