The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have reported more than 31,000 deaths due to complications from novel coronavirus at more than 13,000 nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the U.S.
There have been at least 321 deaths due to coronavirus at Texas nursing homes and 66 at Tarrant County nursing homes, according to Tarrant County Public Health officials.
“Long-term care and nursing facilities are being hit hard with COVID-19,” the Fort Worth Fire Department said in a statement. “There is more testing needed to keep caregivers and patients safe, but the FWFD is prime to be tasked with this mission. We are partnering with Tarrant County Public Health to give back to staff members on the front lines in nursing facilities by taking care of our most vulnerable population.”
In partnership with TCPH, the Fort Worth Fire Department rapid response testing team is capable of administering more than 550 COVID-19 tests per week, officials said. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, there are 32 licensed long-term care facilities in the city of Fort Worth, including two in North Fort Worth.
At Legend Oaks Healthcare and Rehabilitation in Northeast Fort Worth, staff has sealed up and closed off an entire wing to help with the treatment of at least 20 residents who have tested positive for COVID-19.
“Nurses and aides in that unit have not been allowed back [to work] before a two-week quarantine,” staff member Kim Yingling said regarding the facility’s response after its first positive COVID-19 test result in April. “We are taking the temperature of all employees every day before they come back into the building.”
Legend Oaks has also committed to facility-wide temperature checks and coronavirus-related questionnaires that are administered to all employees, Yingling said. In addition, employees working in the COVID-19 wing are required to wear N95 face masks and personal protective equipment, or PPE, she said.
“Anyone with a temperature of 99 [degrees] or above cannot enter the building, and all employees in the COVID-19 unit are wearing full PPE,” Yingling said.
To help residents maintain contact with loved ones and the outside world, Legend Oaks and other long-term facilities in the Keller, Roanoke and Northeast Fort Worth area are utilizing technology, such as Apple FaceTime and Zoom.
At the state level, Gov. Greg Abbott announced May 27 that $3.6 million will be provided to nursing facilities to purchase tablets, webcams and headphones to connect residents with their family members. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced with the governor that nursing facilities can submit applications to the HHSC to receive up to $3,000 in funding per facility to purchase the devices needed.
“This program will help Texans in nursing homes stay connected to their loved ones while protecting the health and safety of our most vulnerable populations,” Abbott said. “As we continue to respond to COVID-19 and mitigate the spread of this virus, we are committed to developing effective strategies that protect Texans while keeping them connected.”
David Kostroun, the deputy executive commissioner for the HHSC’s regulatory services division, said maintaining relationships with families and friends is important during this unprecedented time.
“We want facilities to know this option can help connect residents to their loved ones virtually while still protecting everyone’s health and safety,” Kostroun said.
Any Texas nursing facility can apply for the funding, and devices must be cleaned and disinfected between each use.
Beginning in May, TCPH officials began providing cities in the county with the COVID-19 case numbers at senior living facilities. These include two licensed nursing homes and seven assisted-living facilities in the city of Keller, all of which now know their case numbers, according to an official statement from the city.
Keller-based facilities are adhering to statewide protocols and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the HHSC and TCPH, including on-site training, inspections and ongoing monitoring of facilities, the statement said.
“Tarrant County Public Health has completed testing at both [Keller] nursing homes, and the Keller Fire Department is preparing a task force in case state or federal plans expand to test all residents and employees of assisted-living facilities,” the statement said.
The latest figures from TCPH indicate that seniors account for a majority of coronavirus-related deaths in Tarrant County but not for the majority of cases.
According to TCPH, residents ages 25-44 accounted for 37% of the 6,599 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county as of May 31. Meanwhile, of the 189 total deaths in Tarrant County due to COVID-19, a total of 68% have been residents age 65 or older.
“TCPH is responsible for public health matters as a part of our official mandate,” the statement said. “TCPH has a responsibility to safeguard the health of our community, [which] includes identifying threats to the health and safety of the public and preventing and controlling disease.”