Irving — When news broke around the country that COVID-19 was spreading in the United States, owners and staff at Avante Rehabilitation Center in Irving began to prepare.
Patients discussed the situation with their families, and all the patients decided to shelter in place in the facility.
The staff went through their inventory and ordered extra personal protection equipment. They kept close watch on the patients and staff, monitoring each person for symptoms.
Phillip Prince, owner of the facility, researched the possibility of housing staff on-site to keep them from catching or spreading infection in the community. Without the ability to keep each person six feet away from every other person, or to test staff daily, it was clear that if one patient contracted the virus, others would as well.
If the virus entered the facility, it was clear it would be difficult to isolate the virus. Yet, despite their best efforts, both staff and patients eventually contracted the virus. Currently 16 patients and 13 staff in the facility have tested positive for COVID, most presenting mild symptoms. Without a vaccine or daily testing, it is expected the virus will continue to spread.
“Nursing homes are in the worst position of anyone in the country when it comes to COVID and the spread of the virus,” Prince said. “We have people here who are all medically compromised. There is no way to do social distancing here. We are sitting ducks, basically. It is horrible.”
The patients and staff are at risk of contracting the virus. While the staff follow all of the protocols, it is still difficult to fully protect oneself from coming in contact with COVID. Yet most of the staff continued to work when this began.
“I just had a conversation with a 27 year old single mom. One of her patients just tested positive,” Prince said. “She came to me with tears rolling down her face, because she does not know who will take care of her son if she gets sick. All I could tell her was that I love her, we are in this together, and I would take care of her son if she becomes incapacitated. What else could I say?”
Caring for the patients in a responsible way requires a lot of personal protective equipment. Outer gowns, masks, and gloves are changed upon leaving each patient’s room.
“We have everything we could wish for with the exception of medically engineered isolation gowns,” Prince said. “That is the big item we cannot get. We have requested it through the state. Our vendor has given us a limited quantity of them. These gowns are made so that the staff can take them off without touching the outside of the gown, eliminating contamination. We have all the other supplies at this time, but we could always use more. Our supplies will eventually dry up.
“We tried to get creative and come up with a backup plan. We ordered cow milking gowns when this first started, trying to think outside the box. But the staff is not able to take those off without touching the outside. We will use something else if we do not have gowns, something that is plastic and easy to find, perhaps trash bags. We will get creative before we will put our patients at risk. But we really do need those gowns to be able to provide the best care for our patients.
“Frequent testing is the best way to prevent the spread of the virus,” Prince said. “Right now we are testing every patient every seven days, as well as every staff member. It still is not clear cut. You cannot see it spread through the facility from one room to the next. We have dedicated staff for each of the four sections. We have patients we know have had contact with the positive initial contact, and they are not showing a positive test until day 21. We just do not know if someone is shedding the virus without a positive test. There is so much unknown still. We are doing more than the Department of Health is requiring, but we only have so many tests to administer.
“My wife and I are part of this community. We eat, breath, and sleep Avante. We love Irving and we love these people. This is the worst health crisis in a hundred years. It feels like there is no way to stop this. We have an amazing medical director, and we are treating the patients as aggressively as any skilled nursing facility in the country. But we cannot stop the spread of the virus. We are slowing it down, but we are not stopping it.”
While Avante staff are doing their best to provide support for the patients, the facility has some needs.
“Medically engineered isolation gowns and Tyvek suits are necessary and would be welcomed by Avante,” Prince said. “Additionally rubbing alcohol would be very beneficial, as it is the best chemical that they have found that kills the virus.
“I really want to support the staff. I want to give to these single moms, these young ladies, staring potential death in the face to take care of someone else’s family. We are paying our staff extra for hazard pay, and we are making sure they do not miss a paycheck if they get a COVID diagnosis.
“We have money from the federal government for supplies or to increase the pay of our staff, but that is only so much. I will spend every dime I have to support them. But I want them to feel more supported. We have been supported by the community, especially Baylor Scott and White Hospital’s Dr. Embrey and Dr. Yaft, and president Cindy Schamp, the families of the patients, and councilman Oscar Ward have all been so supportive. These staff members are the real heroes, and we should celebrate them.
“It is hard to keep our distance with meals at the facility, but things like gift cards would be very beneficial to these staff members. They are working so hard to keep everyone healthy and that is amazing.”
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