Details on how to test all Texas nursing home residents, staff still being ironed out, officials say

Details on testing nursing home residents and staff for coronavirus still being ironed out

HOUSTON – There are roughly 80,000 nursing home residents in Texas and more than double that in staff, according to officials with the Health and Human Services Commission. Governor Greg Abbott wants everyone in these facilities tested for COVID-19 —but the trick is how exactly to accomplish that feat.

“We’ve been advocating for more testing for a long time, so we’re in support of what the governor is attempting to do,” said George Linial, president and CEO of LeadingAge Texas. “Certainly there are concerns, who is going to pay for the testing, pay for the additional PPE and all those things.”

Linial said he’s hoping for a phased approach to testing and assurances as to how staffing crunches will be handled.

“What if several staff test positive and they have to let staff quarantine, who takes their place?” said Linial.

Linial said he also wants to make sure there are plans in place to provide follow-up testing after the first round. Meanwhile, some private facilities have started testing on their own. The Harris County Health Department is also helping with this effort. Officials with the Harris County Health Department said nursing homes in the area have been testing since the middle of April.

Stephen Gray is the executive director of VibraLife in Katy. He was thrilled to hear the county will test his residents and staff. He said so far strict protocols have kept COVID-19 from invading his facility, but testing gives another level of certainty.

“This way I can at least get a good baseline,” said Gray. “What if I have someone that is maybe a carrier?”

HHSC officials said all of the details on how testing will be done and under what time-frame are still being ironed out. Abbott said his order comes on the heels of a national push to test nursing home residents and staff and the federal government is helping provide additional testing supplies.

“The people in nursing homes represent the most vulnerable population. Most likely to be a fatally. We want to find our who is positive, who is negative, separate the two,” Abbott said.