Staying closer to loved ones

$3.6 million program to help nursing home patients connect with families

Nearly every day, Debbie Reiley came to see her mother at a nursing home.

But more than two months ago, the nation’s coronavirus outbreak led to restrictions that have kept her out of Windsor Atrium in Harlingen.

“I haven’t seen my mom since March 13,” Reiley, a Harlingen businesswoman, said Thursday. “I was going to see her almost every day. It’s been hard, especially for her.”

Now, Gov. Greg Abbott and the state health department have launched a $3.6 million program aimed at giving each of the state’s nursing homes $3,000 to buy technological equipment to help patients stay in contact with their families and loved ones.

“I think it’s a good program,” Reiley said.

“She really needs my visits and misses me,” she said, referring to her mother, who recovered from the COVID-19 virus after an outbreak at Windsor Atrium and another Harlingen nursing home.

Earlier this month, Windsor Atrium applied for the state program’s funding, Brooke Ladner, senior vice president for business development for parent company Regency Integrated Health Services, stated.

“While we are still waiting for a decision from the state, we are hopeful that we will be able to obtain the devices giving our residents more options to stay connected with their loved ones,” she stated.

Since the lockdown, Windsor Atrium’s nurses’ aides have been sharing their cell phones with her mother to help them talk a couple of times a week, Reiley said.

Now, the new state program will help nursing homes such as Windsor Atrium purchase tablets, webcams and headphones to help patients stay closer to their families.

“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 stated in a press release.

Opening windows

The new program will help open the world to many nursing home patients, said Josh Ramirez, Harlingen’s public health director.

For more than two months, state orders have prohibited visitors including family members, from entering nursing homes to see patients.

“All nursing homes were placed on lockdown prohibiting visits from anyone,” Ramirez said.

Since the lockdown, nursing homes have only allowed health care workers wearing personal protective equipment to enter.

“Understanding this is our most vulnerable population, we have to be very careful as to who is allowed in the facilities,” Ramirez said.

The order prohibiting visitors, he said, has further withdrawn patients who have been isolated after COVID-19 outbreaks forced them into quarantine.

“It’s scary for patients who are not able to see family members and not know what’s going on,” Ramirez said.

The new program helps patients feel closer to their families amid restrictions that could continue to keep nursing homes locked down for months.

“This opens a window of communication to provide more tablets for viewing relatives,” Ramirez said.

Tough road to recovery

For Reiley and many other family members, the lockdown has torn at their hearts.

Last month, a Cameron County investigation found a health care worker carried the coronavirus into Veranda Rehabilitation and Healthcare before taking it to Windsor Atrium, where 61 residents and 39 employees have contracted the virus, including 16 who have died, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr.’s office stated Wednesday.

Soon after the outbreak, Reiley’s 86-year-old mother contracted the virus.

For about two weeks, her mother was hospitalized.

“It was touch-and-go there for two weeks,” Reiley said.

At the nursing home, she recovered after about a month in isolation.

“She’s doing really good,” Reiley said.

Reiley credits the nursing home’s staff for controlling the outbreak.

“They’re taking every precaution they can,” she said. “They’re doing a really good job.”

Outbreaks

At Veranda, the nursing home continues to battle the outbreak, with 61 residents and 32 employees contracting the virus, including 11 who died, Treviño’s office stated in a press release.

Earlier this month in Brownsville, Spanish Meadows became the scene of an outbreak after a hospital transferred a patient without symptoms to the nursing home, where the patient tested positive for the virus before being taken back to the hospital.

Now, 10 residents and six employees have tested positive for the virus there, according to Treviño’s office.

Last month, the Harlingen outbreaks led Treviño to issue an emergency management order aimed at setting nursing home procedures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.

Days earlier, Dr. Michael Mohan, Harlingen’s newly appointed health authority, issued orders prohibiting the city’s nursing homes and rehabilitation centers from sharing health care staff and transferring residents to other facilities.