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Nursing home workers say they were denied PPE before outbreak that sickened 126, killed 2

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A West-Central El Paso nursing home that has had 126 COVID-19 cases, including two deaths, failed to provide adequate personal protective equipment to staff in the weeks leading up to the outbreak, employees say.

Their complaints have led to a state investigation at Mountain View Health and Rehabilitation, 1600 Murchison. The state agency that regulates nursing homes in Texas is investigating five of the six El Paso nursing homes operated by Mountain View’s parent company, Fort Worth-based Creative Solutions in Healthcare.

“The main reason all this is happening is negligence, first of all. And second, no PPE was provided to us at all during this whole time,” said a certified nursing assistant who worked at Mountain View. She asked not to be identified because she feared jeopardizing her state license. “We were exposing the residents, the residents were exposing us.” 

Leila Jones, a spokeswoman for Creative Solutions in Health Care, said the company initiated strict protocols in early March to respond to the threat of COVID-19, before such steps were required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Systems.

“In addition to adherence to these protocols and preventative measures, Mountain View immediately sought to secure PPE for employees in each of their facilities. Even during the nationwide shortage of PPE, Mountain View used CDC approved conservation techniques which helped us to constantly have adequate supplies to protect our residents and staff,” she said in a statement.

Texas National Guard soldiers were visible on May 24 outside Mountain View Health and Rehabilitation, a nursing care facility at 1600 Murchison in West-Central El Paso. The soldiers were assigned to disinfect nursing homes with COVID-19 cases. (Robert Moore/El Paso Matters)

Texas nursing homes are regulated by the state Health and Human Services Commission.

“We are actively investigating at this facility to assess its compliance with all relevant health and safety rules. Results of this investigation can be requested upon completion,” HHSC spokeswoman Danielle Pestrikoff said.

Pestrikoff said other Creative Solutions facilities in El Paso facing state investigation in the wake of COVID-19 include Franklin Heights Nursing and Rehabilitation, 223 S. Resler; Oasis Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 9001 North Loop; St. Giles Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 950 Camino Del Rey; and St. Teresa Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 10350 Montana.

St Giles Nursing & Rehabilitaiton Center, at 950 Camino Del Rey, is pictured on June 9 in El Paso, Texas. (Michaela Román/El Paso Matters)

The only Creative Solutions facility in El Paso not facing a state investigation is Pebble Creek Nursing Center, 11608 Scott Simpson.

Federal data provides number city, state refuse to provide

As of May 31, 91 Mountain View residents and 35 employees had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that regulates nursing homes. Two of the residents have died.

The CMS report said Mountain View has 125 residents, meaning almost three-fourths were infected with COVID-19. The 91 infections are the most among any nursing home in Texas as of May 31, according to the report.

Employee infections were spread throughout the staff, workers said.

“Everybody got infected, even the ladies in the reception desk, which is the front office. They got cases there, cases in the laundromat, cases in the kitchen, cases in people who clean, and then CNAs and nurses. So it was something that spread very quickly,” the CNA said. She said she was among the few employees who tested negative.

City and state governments have refused to provide data on individual nursing homes, even though the federal government has required nursing homes to file weekly reports since April 19.

CMS data shows that Mountain View accounts for the vast majority of reported COVID-19 cases in El Paso nursing homes, though reporting may be incomplete. El Paso nursing homes reported 118 COVID-19 infections among residents and 56 among employees as of May 31. Three total deaths have been reported among residents.

The second-largest outbreak at an El Paso nursing home was 14 residents and 10 employees at the Ambrosio Guillen Texas State Veterans Home, 9650 Kenworthy Street in Northeast El Paso. The only other El Paso nursing home reporting a COVID-19 death is Vibralife of El Paso Rehabilitation Center, 3421 Joe Battle in Far East El Paso.

In a report to City Council on Tuesday, El Paso public health officials provided an update on COVID-19 clusters that showed 128 COVID-19 cases among nursing home residents and 121 cases among employees.

PPE locked away, employees say

Mountain View’s owner, Creative Solutions in Healthcare, is one of the largest nursing home providers in Texas. The company runs 64 facilities across Texas, including six in El Paso, according to an HHSC database.

The company was founded in 2010 by Gary and Malisa Blake, according to its website. 

Creative Solutions’ “corporate culture is grounded in the golden rule and Christian ethic of, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’” the company’s website says.

Multiple employees interviewed by El Paso Matters said employees weren’t provided gowns, shoe coverings and hair coverings, even though they requested them and the nursing home had such PPE on site.

“What happened after (COVID-19 was first reported in El Paso) is that they (management) hid all of the masks, gowns everything for protection and it was gone. There had been enough because we would occasionally use masks with our patients to protect them, but suddenly there wasn’t even a single box,” a second CNA said.

The PPE was locked up on orders of Mountain View’s nursing director, the two CNAs said.

“Any kind of PPE that was there at the facility was under lock and key. Nobody was allowed to get it, nobody was allowed to touch it, nobody was allowed to be near it. Because she was waiting to see if we needed it for an emergency,” the second CNA said.

Even masks in short supply, workers say

Facemasks were strictly rationed, employees said. The first CNA said she was given two single-use masks, one in March and one in April.

“The first time they gave us one was like the third week of March. And they told us to be very careful with it because that’s all they were going to get. We had to be using it constantly. If we lose it, they were not going to replace it with another one,” she said. “The last week of April, they gave us another mask and the same thing, you lose it, we won’t give you another one.”

The second CNA described a similar experience: “They started to give us one mask in a little brown paper bag and they told us we had to take care of them because they weren’t going to give us any more. Lots of my coworkers and I would go buy our own.”

The first round of testing at Mountain View began after an employee, who also worked at another nursing home with known COVID-19 cases, tested positive, the employees said.

Jones, the Creative Solutions spokeswoman, said a Mountain View employee tested positive for COVID-19 on May 6.

“The health-care worker was quarantined, families of all residents were notified by phone and email, and coronavirus tests were ordered for all employees and residents of the facility. The tests revealed numerous residents and staff were COVID-19 positive, and the proper steps were taken to quarantine affected employees, and residents who tested positive were moved into isolation. We have followed all HHSC guidelines including their requirement to report any positive cases associated,” she said.

The second CNA and four other employees were told on May 13 that they had tested positive, the second CNA said. “I was short of breath, had chills and fever and it makes me sad to think our patients will go through that,” she said.

Mountain View began providing PPE to workers after the positive tests, employees said.

Neither of the CNAs has returned to work, although both are now negative for COVID-19. “I’m worried about my patients, but I’m afraid to go back because even though I got the virus that doesn’t mean I won’t get it again. I still have trouble breathing and get more tired than I did before,” the second CNA said.

Elida S. Perez contributed to this story.

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Robert Moore

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986. He spent most of his career at the El Paso Times, serving in a variety of leadership roles. His work has received a number of top journalism honors including Pulitzer Prize finalist, the Burl Osborne award for editorial leadership, the James Madison Award from the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation, the Jack Douglas Award from Texas Associated Press Managing Editors and the Frank W. Mayborn Award for Community Leadership from the Texas Press Association. In 2013, he was the recipient of the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award from the National Press Association. As a freelance journalist, Moore’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, Texas Monthly, ProPublica, National Public Radio, The Guardian and other publications. He has been featured as an expert on the border by CNN, MSNBC, BBC, CBC and PBS.

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