To comply with state orders mandating 100% of Texas’ nursing home residents and staff be tested for the coronavirus, Fort Bend County launched a testing strike team upon approval from the Commissioners Court on May 19.
Starting May 22, the COVID-19 Testing Strike Team will test about 1,000 residents and employees at five state-licensed nursing homes in four days, said Graig Temple, the Fort Bend County emergency medical services chief, at a May 20 press conference. Over the past few days, the team has been training for this testing effort.
Mark Flathouse, the county’s fire marshal and emergency management coordinator, is leading the team that consists of about 20 fire departments across the county, Fort Bend County Emergency Medical Services and Fort Bend County Health and Human Services, County Judge KP George and Flathouse said at the conference.
Under directions from the state, each fire department was expected to test a provided list of facilities in their jurisdiction, Flathouse said. But by collaborating together, fire departments in Fort Bend County can share resources to save time and money to complete this mandated task.
“Basically, we all work together, and we have different people that are off duty come together, go to a nursing room, or a nursing home, and just hit it all at once in one day,” Flathouse said. “And then the next day, hit another one and another one, and we report back to the state. It’s a lot easier than 20 different departments doing their own thing.”
The Texas Department of Emergency Management is aware of and approved this plan as long as the results from the testing efforts are reported within the two-week time frame dictated by the state, Flathouse added.
This team will also be ready to adhere to any additional direction from the state if it expands mandatory testing to additional populations, such as assisted-living facilities, said Flathouse and Jacquelyn Minter, the county's HHS director and local health authority.
The county has a total of 15 designated state-licensed long-term care facilities, Minter said. Some of these facilities have already begun their own COVID-19 testing and submitted their results to the state.
“They already wanted to do this even before the governor spoke about this,” Minter said. “But we do have to make sure that we're covering every single one and all of the reporting is correct.”
In particular, the county’s testing strike team will provide help to state-licensed facilities that agreed to assistance from the team to conduct the testing, Minter said.
County officials said they would not provide the locations of the facilities, but according to the state health and human services website, there are 14 nursing facilities in the county not housed in a hospital that serve Medicare and Medicaid populations.
In total, the state of Texas must test nearly 250,000 people who work or live at 1,223 nursing homes, according to a May 13 letter from Mike Wisko, the executive director of the Texas Commission on Fire Protection, that was included in the May 19 Fort Bend County Commissioners Court meeting agenda.
All costs related to this testing are covered by the TDEM, the letter states. According to an analysis by the American Health Care Association and National Center of Assisted Living, this effort is estimated to cost about $29 million.
Fort Bend County launches team to conduct COVID-19 testing at state-licensed nursing facilities
Fort Bend County officials and fire departments announce the launch of the COVID-19 Testing Strike Team at a May 20 press conference. (Screenshot via KP George Facebook live video)