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El Paso veterans nursing home never made leadership changes demanded by Land Commissioner George P. Bush after COVID-19 deaths

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In August, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush demanded leadership changes at the Ambrosio Guillen State Veterans Home after an El Paso Matters story raised questions about the COVID-19 death of a World War II veteran.

As of Veterans Day, more than two months later, Kenneth Shull remains as administrator of the state-owned nursing home for veterans in Northeast El Paso. And Bush isn’t responding to questions about his Aug. 25 statement being ignored. 

George P. Bush

“Over the past several months, we have closely monitored the situation in our El Paso home, and have worked with our independent operator to implement many proactive policies at the (Veterans Land Board’s) direction in an effort to prevent the spread of this invisible enemy. This afternoon, I issued correspondence to the home operator calling for a change in leadership of their operations team currently employed at the home,” Bush said at the time.

When asked about the inaction since August, Bush spokeswoman Karina Erickson said he had “no additional comment at this time.”

Bush became involved after an El Paso Matters story about the May 24 death of Eugene Forti, 96, who served as a B-17 ball-turret gunner during World War II. He died four days after being returned to the nursing home from William Beaumont Army Medical Center, where he was treated for COVID-19. 

Forti’s daughter, Mary Kay Dieterich, asked repeated questions about how Ambrosio Guillen prepared for COVID-19 in the late winter, and how her father was treated after returning from the hospital. She said Shull and the nursing home ignored her questions.

Eugene Forti celebrated his 96th birthday on March 6 at Ambrosio Guillen Texas State Veterans Home. (Photo courtesy of Mary Kay Dietrich)

The Texas Veterans Land Board, which is an agency of the General Land Office, owns the Ambrosio Guillen nursing home. It is operated by HMR Veterans Services, a South Carolina company. Bill Biggs, HMR’s CEO, did not respond to questions from El Paso Matters in August, and hasn’t responded to questions about why Shull continues as the nursing home’s administrator.

Dieterich declined to comment because the family has retained an attorney for a possible legal claim stemming from her father’s death.

The El Paso veterans nursing home, named for a Korean War Medal of Honor recipient, had 12 residents die of COVDI-19 between mid-May and mid-June, but none since.

The nursing home reported five active COVID-19 cases among employees and six among residents as of Oct. 27, the most recent data available from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

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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. His work has received a number of top journalism honors including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, Pulitzer Prize finalist and the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award. 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 border issues by CNN, MSNBC, BBC, CBC and PBS.

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