Widow questions Starr County nursing facility's timing of COVID-19 notification
A man in his 70s died at a nursing home in Starr County last week. His wife was allowed to spend nearly two hours with the body before the funeral home arrived. She went home and started grieving in the company of family. Days later, she was told her late husband was positive for COVID-19, the widow said.
“Right now, I'm dying of fear thinking that I could have it or my daughters or grandkids,” Mrs. Flores said Tuesday.
Her late husband, Sergio Eden Flores, was a resident of Rio Grande City Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. It's a facility managed by Regency Integrated Health Services.
Flores needed special care after he suffered an embolism that left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak six years ago, his wife said. He spent about four and half years at the facility.
Tests for the virus were administered since the end of May, as per a statement shared by Brooke C. Ladner, RIHS Business Development. All residents and staff were negative at the time.
That was the first round of several tests.
“Last week, additional testing was conducted inside the facility. Those results did reveal positive COVID 19 cases among staff and residents. Residents who tested positive were immediately isolated and the staff members were sent home and will not return to work until medically cleared. In most of the cases, the people who tested positive were asymptomatic. Out of an abundance of caution, we are in the process of re-testing every person inside the Rio Grande City center. While we know that testing is a valuable tool in fighting further spread of the coronavirus, we have also discovered many inaccuracies with COVID 19 test results.”
Flores was tested on Tuesday, according to Mrs. Flores. On Thursday, she got a call from the nursing facility notifying her that her husband was seriously ill. Blood samples and some tests were pending. Mrs. Flores was told her husband had liquid in the heart and lungs.
On Friday, Mrs. Flores went to visit her husband. After putting a face mask, she was allowed inside where it was mostly empty except for a female employee who recognized her.
“She said she felt sorry, because she had seen what happened. I asked her, ‘Why would you feel sorry? What's going on?’ ‘You don't know anything?’ she asked. I said, ‘No. I don't know anything,’” Flores' wife said.
Sergio Flores was still in his bed when his wife arrived. She approached him and started talking to him. When she got close enough to touch him, she realized why the employee was expressing what she now recognized as condolences.
“He was cold, like it had been a long time since he had died,” Mrs. Flores said.
Nearly an hour and 45 minutes elapsed while she sat in the room with her deceased husband before the body was taken to the funeral home. She went home where her daughters and grandchildren gathered to grieve with her.
The weekend passed. On Monday, Mrs. Flores said she grew inquisitive about her husband's COVID-19 test results.
“Until I asked for the results yesterday, Monday, and they told me had tested positive,” Mrs. Flores said. Her husband was tested nearly a week before then. “The results were pending, because it was taking a while to get them in,” she said.
Grieving mixes with concern as Flores wonders why she wasn't notified of the possibility that her husband died of COVID-19 when she was physically by his side.
“I think it was negligent of the center, simply for not letting me know that he was sick and letting me be alone with his body for up to an hour and 45 minutes until the funeral home was able to pick him up,” Mrs. Flores said.
The management company said differently. “When a patient does test positive for the coronavirus, family members are immediately notified as are the appropriate state and local officials,” as per the statement.
Mrs. Flores said she got tested on Monday, the same day she found out the suspected cause of her husband's death. Those results are pending. Mrs. Flores is in self-isolation as she waits for her husband's ashes.
The full statement reads:
We offer our deepest condolences to the Flores family during this very difficult time. Due to privacy laws, we cannot comment on details of a specific patient's care. We began universal testing at the Rio Grande City facility at the end of May --at which time all residents and staff tested negative for COVID 19.
Last week, additional testing was conducted inside the facility. Those results did reveal positive COVID 19 cases among staff and residents. Residents who tested positive were immediately isolated and the staff members were sent home and will not return to work until medically cleared. In most of the cases, the people who tested positive were asymptomatic. Out of an abundance of caution, we are in the process of re-testing every person inside the Rio Grande City center. While we know that testing is a valuable tool in fighting further spread of the coronavirus, we have also discovered many inaccuracies with COVID 19 test results.
When a patient does test positive for the coronavirus, family members are immediately notified as are the appropriate state and local officials.
Staff members at the facility continue to follow the enhanced infection control and prevention processes that were implemented when the pandemic began in early March. Some of these efforts such as closing the facility to visitors and cancelling group activities even preceded recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Systems (CMS) also issued in March.
Included in these important protocols are the following:
· Staff is required to wear masks upon entry to the facility until the end of their shift and will wear full personal protective equipment when appropriate for the resident’s presumed level of exposure
· Staff and essential medical professionals are assessed and screened prior to entering the Facility; if they present with any sign or symptom of illness, they are sent home
· Visitation, Group activities and communal dining remains suspended at until further direction from CMS and the CDC
· Cleaning and sanitizing are occurring regularly and daily throughout the Facility
· Our clinical team has implemented COVID-19 specific infection surveillance protocol and is monitoring our residents frequently for potential changes in condition
· Frequent handwashing
· Frequent use of hand sanitizer
We continue to work closely with state officials to continuously update and revise our protocols as CDC and CMS recommendations change to reflect more current and accurate information about the coronavirus.