Health And Safety

El Campo EMS ambulances arrived at Garden Villa nursing home Tuesday, lights flashing. Residents and staff at the nursing home have tested positive for COVID-19, but delays in local, state and federal data have led to inconsistent case counts. State health data shows that as many as four residents have died from the virus, but local and national data show less deaths.

Of the 25 Wharton County COVID-19 deaths reported by the state health services, four may have been residents of El Campo nursing home Garden Villa, dying within one month after the facility’s outbreak was confirmed.

“It’s very unfortunate that we lost people in this situation,” El Campo Mayor Randy Collins said. “My heart goes out to all these families, considering  they’ve lost an individual due to COVID.”

There has long been discrepancies between national, state and local data, as health officials struggle to keep up with the COVID-19 numbers.

Along with the confirmed resident deaths, Garden Villa has reported 45 active resident COVID-19 cases and 10 employee active cases, as of July 23, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Twenty resident recoveries have been reported at Garden Villa, along with 69 total Garden Villa resident positive cases and 22 total employee positives, according to DSHS. The number of beds at the facility is 150, and 83 are currently occupied, according to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Garden Villa is owned by Trinity Healthcare in Fort Worth. Company CEO Ryan Herrington would not comment on the deaths. Trinity released a statement on July 8 confirming the initial COVID-19 outbreak at the facility.

“A lot of these people have lived here a long time, and are prominent in our community, doing good things,” Collins said. “The fact that we’ve lost them to COVID is a sad thing.”

The number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Wharton County is 25, and there are 290 active cases, as of press time, according to DSHS. The total number of county recoveries is 329, with 666 total positive cases.

The Wharton County Office of Emergency Management, however, reports just 11 county deaths. “I know there’s a lot more than we’re reporting,” OEM Coordinator Andy Kirkland said, adding the data his office has received only reflects one nursing home death.

“I know we have the numbers, but I don’t know how many,” Kirkland said.

DSHS’ last data report for nursing homes from July 23 puts the death count for Garden Villa at four, while the report of two deaths comes from CMS, as of July 26.

At SPJST nursing facility in Hillje, seven total residents have tested positive for COVID-19, according to CMS, as of July 26. DSHS reports no positives for SPJST. 

SPJST facility leaders confirmed on July 19 that multiple individuals had tested positive. They would not release the number of cases or when the first positive test result because they cited patient privacy laws.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has since issued a ruling saying that information does not violate patient privacy and must be released.

Meridian Assisted Living in El Campo reported one positive COVID-19 staff case and no resident cases, as of July 23, according to DSHS. Facility staff confirmed that no patients have COVID-19 on Aug. 7, and would not comment on the positive case with a staff member.

DSHS updated its method of counting COVID-19 deaths, basing it off of death certificate information. An individual’s cause of death is only listed as COVID-19 if a medical professional, who has direct knowledge of the patient, determines COVID-19 directly caused the death.

The Wharton County Office of Emergency Management has been struggling to receive timely data from the state.

About 11,000 Texas nursing home residents have tested positive for COVID-19 at 57 percent of Texas’ 3,215 nursing homes. Governor Greg Abbott banned nursing home visitation in March due to the vulnerability of the elderly population to the coronavirus.

Five months later, indoor and outdoor visits will be allowed in assisted living facilities, providing there are no active cases of residents and no staff cases in the last two weeks, according to the Texas Tribune.

Nursing homes can allow outdoor visits only and are required to test staff weekly.

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