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Just like hospitals, Texas’ long-term care facilities struggle to remain staffed during latest COVID-19 surge

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From Texas Standard:

Like hospitals, long-term care facilities in Texas face staffing shortages, due to COVID-19 quarantine requirements.

Rates of vaccination among staff and residents are climbing though, says Texas’ long-term care ombudsman, Patty Ducayet. She says 75% of the state’s long-term care staff are fully vaccinated, while 81% of residents are fully vaccinated. It’s not clear how many people have had their boosters, but that is a number the state is working on gauging.

Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Last time we checked on the vaccination status of state long-term care facilities, I believe we're looking at only about 11% of facilities having 75% or more of their staff fully vaccinated against COVID 19. And those numbers changed in the past couple of months?

Patty Ducayet: Where I can give you statistics is more in terms of the percentages of residents and facility staff that are vaccinated. So let me give you a little different statistic. For nursing facility residents, we're a little over 81%. And on the staff side, a little over 75% in Texas have been vaccinated.

But based just on that sampling, it sounds like a very sharp improvement compared to a couple of months back.

Definitely an improvement. It's been gradual. And what this may or may not really indicate is: How are we doing with boosters for both staff and residents?

What kind of efforts are being made to get more staff vaccinated to your knowledge?

Oh, lots of efforts of making sure that facilities know that the State of Texas will support them if they want help with getting those boosters out and certainly any new vaccinations for residents just moving, and in new staff. There are clinics available that the State of Texas will help organize or any facility that's having trouble. And we feel like there's been pretty good progress there. Facilities have had that relationship with their pharmacy from before, and just need to reconnect with the pharmacy. If there's any problem with that. We're asking them to come to us, tell us that they are struggling and we will get them help to get that clinic out to the facility.

There seems to be a big difference in how people infected with the omicron variant versus the delta variant are manifesting symptoms. Has there been any change in terms of the severity of these COVID cases that you're seeing in nursing care, long-term care facilities?

Anecdotally, yes, we certainly are hearing a lot more about pretty mild symptoms, but there are not, you know, we aren't without risks. A long-term care facility resident is in that high-risk category still for severe illness and death, and we have to watch residents very closely. Nursing staff really have to monitor carefully to see a resident maybe decline

In previous spikes of COVID, there have been issues related to family members not being able to visit their loved ones inside the facilities. Have there been changes to family visitation policies as a result of the current spike?

The nursing facility requirements are very clear that residents have access to their visitors any time for as long as they want. So there has been a real change and a real shift in policy to ensure that residents aren't cut off from visitors. In an assisted living facility, there is a little bit more leniency in our rules for the state. But still, there is an expectation that someone who is considered an essential caregiver can always have access to their resident. And other other visitors can arrange for visitation as well. So we have a we have a big shift there.

Since you field a lot of concerns from family members, loved ones and friends of those who are in long term care facilities, what's the most common concern that you're hearing?

These days, it's it is some staffing concerns and response to COVID outbreaks in the facility and what the facility does in terms of infection control response.

And are these facilities responsive to those concerns or not so much? Or could they do more?

I think there's been a good response from facilities when we report a concern to them. If we don't see a good response from the ombudsman program, we take it to the long-term care regulation department and we'll report directly to them. That is the branch of HHSC that's kind of the police force, the enforcement side of things.