Nursing homes await Texas National Guard

HARLINGEN — Like Jason Hess, the area’s nursing home administrators are waiting for the Texas National Guard’s help in their fight against the spread of the coronavirus.

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott assigned the National Guard to disinfect the state’s nursing homes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, Abbott directed the state’s Division of Emergency Management to work with public health officials to offer testing to nursing homes across Texas.

“As a healthcare provider, we are included among the intended beneficiaries of this action,” stated Hess, administrator of Veranda Rehabilitation and Healthcare, where 61 residents and 32 employees have contracted the virus, including 10 who have died, as of Wednesday afternoon.

“We also understand that the National Guard will support activities such as testing, care access and disinfection as part of the governor’s directive,” Hess stated.

Now, Hess is waiting for details behind the National Guard’s mission.

“I have not been made aware at this time when the National Guard will be visiting Veranda,” he stated. “Assuming they do choose to visit us, we will welcome their assistance and support.”

Nursing home outbreak

Last month, a Cameron County investigation found a health care worker carried the coronavirus into Veranda before taking it to Windsor Atrium, where 60 residents and 38 employees have contracted the virus, including 14 who have died, according to Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr.’s office.

Earlier this month in Brownsville, Spanish Meadows became the scene of an outbreak after a hospital transferred a patient without symptoms to the nursing home, where the patient tested positive for the virus before being taken back to the hospital.

Now, 10 residents and an employee have tested positive for the virus there, according to Treviño’s figures.

Last month, the Harlingen outbreaks led Treviño to issue an emergency management order aimed at setting nursing home procedures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.

Days earlier, Dr. Michael Mohan, Harlingen’s newly appointed health authority, issued orders prohibiting the city’s nursing homes and rehabilitation centers from sharing health care staff and transferring residents to other facilities.

National Guard trained for mission

So far, Abbott has assigned six National Guard teams to nursing homes across Texas, a press release states.

“The Texas National Guard plays a crucial role in our ongoing response to COVID-19 and I am grateful for their work to address the unique challenges our nursing homes face during this pandemic,” Abbott stated. “The training these guardsmen have received will equip them with the knowledge and tools they need to provide this crucial assistance to these facilities.”

The Guardsmen are trained for the mission, Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris stated.

“Our service members have proactively trained for this mission alongside the Health and Human Services Commission and other partner agencies,” Norris stated. “We take our charge of protecting all Texans, especially our most vulnerable populations, extremely seriously.”

Emergency Management testing

The state’s Division of Emergency Management will work with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Department of State Health Services to offer COVID-19 testing to nursing homes.

“This partnership builds upon our efforts to expand COVID-19 testing in the Lone Star State, especially among our most vulnerable Texans,” Abbott stated. “By serving their communities in this new capacity we will continue to contain the spread of this virus and protect the health and safety of all Texans.”

Testing process

At City Hall, Josh Ramirez, Harlingen’s public health director, said some nursing homes can’t test their residents.

“Not all the facilities have testing capabilities,” he said. “They’ve asked for help. Those that (tested) have done them as the patients show symptoms.”

In Harlingen, nursing homes include about 1,500 residents and employees, Ramirez said.

“It’s going to be a challenging task,” he said. “You want to begin testing folks sooner so you can segregate them. The sooner we can separate them, we can stop the spread. If (residents) need assistance, we’ll provide the assistance they need.”

Ramirez said he expects the state’s teams to complete testing before disinfecting the nursing homes.

“It is important that after we test everyone and we segregate those who test positive from those who test negative, and once those positives are cleared, then we disinfect the whole building,” Ramirez said. “That’s how we understand the process will go. We have not received clarification.”

At some area nursing homes, Ramirez said it could take about a month to clear the facilities’ positive cases.

Disinfection method

Ramirez said he’s trying to determine the state’s method of disinfection.

“Is it by mist or fog? Is it by spray directly to surfaces?” he asked. “We want to know what kind of product will be utilized and the concentration levels considering some people may be allegoric to certain products.”

Ramirez said National Guard teams are expected to disinfect entire nursing home facilities.

“The virus can still linger on the surfaces people touched, from a keyboard to a laptop to a desk counter,” he said. “The virus remains on the surface from three to nine days, depending on the environmental conditions.”

Ramirez said the teams are also expected to disinfect air conditioning units.

“The air may have particles of people’s droplets,” he said.