HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- There are 567 nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties. Of those, 10 percent of nursing homes had at least one death.
Sui Lou, a grandmother and mom, was not supposed to be part of the grim COVID-19 nursing home statistics.
"Had there been more transparency, I do believe her death could have been avoided," said her grieving daughter Lina. "She had ailments but not deadly ailments."
Instead, the elder Lou died at the end of May, just two days after an ambulance transported the 70-year-old from her nursing home in Southwest Houston to the hospital.
At the time, the family had no idea there was a major virus outbreak at Focused Care Beechnut, where the elder Lou lived.
Like many families in Texas, the Lous were not aware of the extent of the outbreak until the Texas Department of Health and Human Services began releasing data.
"I think because numbers are just coming out, people did not realize the depth and seriously of the deaths in Texas," said attorney Randy Sorrels, who is representing the Lou family. "In this instance, had they told family members this is what's going on, they could have made educated decisions on whether to keep their family members in those facilities or to take them out.
According to the State of Texas, as of July 22nd, 50 employees and 71 residents had tested positive at Focused Care at Beechnut since the pandemic began. State records show 18 deaths.
The situation is not unique. Wednesday, Missouri City officials became angry when they realized that one of its facilities, Paradigm at First Colony, was also a hot spot. At that location, state records show 24 employees and 85 residents have tested positive since the pandemic began. There are 19 deaths so far. The data was publicly released last week, but a spokesperson for the Missouri City Mayor's office says it was only made aware of it this week.
Shocking numbers mean even the thousands of Texans whose family members are still healthy and living in nursing facilities, worry constantly.
"I think it's just difficult to see someone you love at risk, knowing there is nothing you can do about it," said Houstonian Greg Audel, whose mother lives in a nursing facility out of state. "And, they can't do anything to protect themselves, other than what they are already doing."
Missouri City officials have demanded both the state and the local nursing home provide more up to date data on cases daily, not once every few weeks.
In Houston, public health officials have taken an active approach, sending teams out to nursing facilities very early on during the pandemic. While that has helped somewhat, there are several facilities within the city and Harris County that have double digit deaths. Focused Care at Westwood showed more than 20 deaths, according to State of Texas data.
"These aren't just old people that can be thrown away, they're the most vulnerable and should be treated with the utmost care," said Lou, who cries whenever she talks about her mother. "They're somebody's mother, father, grand parent, and they don't deserve to be left to die."
Both companies released statements in response, and we've included both in full below.
Full statement from Pardigm nursing home:
Paradigm at First Colony joins individuals, healthcare institutions, and government agencies around the world in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. From the start of the pandemic, we have worked with Texas Health and Human Services and the Fort Bend County Health and Human Services to monitor and respond to COVID-19. Representatives from these agencies have inspected our facility to ensure best practices are followed consistent with ever-changing guidance from the CDC and CMS. With their oversight, we have created a COVID-19 Recovery Unit dedicated to caring for residents with COVID-19 as well as a Step-Down Unit and General Resident Units to separate residents with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Currently, there are 11 residents with confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Paradigm at First Colony who remain in stable condition. Our mitigation efforts include training staff based on the recommendations of the CDC and CMS on subjects such as: infection control protocols, handwashing procedures, thorough disinfectant cleaning procedures, and wearing gowns and gloves when appropriate. We are monitoring residents for signs of upper respiratory symptoms and other symptoms of COVID-19. Staff and essential healthcare personnel are likewise monitored for symptoms to restrict entry into the building for individuals with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. We have procured adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for our staff to care for the residents consistent with the most current guidelines.
We appreciate the many individuals and institutions working together to care for residents at Paradigm at First Colony. We thank the dedicated staff at Texas Health and Human Services and the Fort Bend County Health and Human Services who continue to provide valuable support. Our community first responders, local hospitals, vendors, and their dedicated staff have been instrumental in coordinating patient care. Our Paradigm at First Colony frontline staff continue to inspire us daily as they provide patient care during this time.
We recognize physical separation from loved ones is challenging and appreciate our residents and family members respecting the visitation restrictions currently in place for the benefit of the residents. Additional tablets and communication devices have been made available to residents including telephone, email, text, Skype, Facebook, and other video conferencing platforms. We encourage family members and friends to continue maintaining contact with our residents through these platforms.
Full response from Focused Care at Beechnut:
Focused Care at Beechnut is currently COVID-19 free.
Focused Care at Beechnut took part in facility-wide testing on May 14th following Governor Gregg Abbott's mandate that all residents and staff in skilled nursing communities must be tested for COVID-19. The results showed 58 residents as positive for COVID-19 and 46 team members. No deaths were reported at that time.
Since May 14th, Focused Care's on-site testing identified 23 additional residents as positive for the virus, bringing the total number of positive residents since testing began in early spring to 81. Encouragingly, 64 of those residents being cared for were able to leave the quarantined wing after testing negative and resume their regular daily activities.
Sadly, 17 residents who tested positive at one time have passed away since May 14th - though Focused Care cannot confirm all deaths were due to COVID. Eleven of those residents passed away in nearby hospitals while 6 passed away at Focused Care at Beechnut.
Focused Care's policies on notifying family members prior to COVID-19 and during have remained steadfast. Letters, email exchanges and phone calls to loved ones of residents are documented and as a long term care provider we are committed to complete transparency and ongoing communication with family members.
To note, Focused Care at Beechnut is located in Harris County, which has the largest number of COVID cases, according to recently released HHS data.
A recent report from the Kaiser Family Foundation states, "Long-term care cases in "hotspot states" with wider community transmission have risen at four times the rate as long-term care cases in non-hotspot states" and "The two states with the highest overall increase in cases statewide, Texas and Florida, also report the highest increase in cases in long-term care facilities..." Additionally, the report explains, "The share of tests coming back positive in Texas and Florida are well over 10%, suggesting that community transmission is widespread and increasing."
State data appears to correlate community spikes in the infection with nursing home case rates, a regrettable connection as we battle on a daily basis to save lives and protect the health of our team members.
Facts matter and as we are required to report COVID status to various public health entities - some on a daily basis - Focused Care is vigilant in its efforts to be accurate. We encourage others reporting this kind of information to be as careful.
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Relatives of nursing homes patients wish they had more COVID cases information from facilities