Testing underway for all residents, staff of North Texas nursing homes

North Texas firefighters have begun testing all nursing home residents and staff for COVID-19.

It's part of Governor Greg Abbott's statewide plan to quickly detect and contain cases.

But some nursing home operators did the testing themselves weeks ago after not getting help.

Testing is one of the many resources that advocates have been requesting at nursing homes since the start of the pandemic.

Now, the state and federal government is starting to provide some help.

Advocates have said that in some cases, it's a little too late, and even now, it's not enough.

Many North Texas firefighters have joined the state's task force in administering covid-19 tests to all residents and staff in nursing homes.

"They were trained on how to administer the swab test, they were supplied personal protective equipment by the state and all the tests, and how to get the tests processed," Richardson Fire Chief Curtis Poovey said.

The Richardson Fire Department is one of 10 North Texas fire departments making deployments to help detect and control cases locally, as requested by Gov. Abbott.

But the request comes after weeks of outbreaks among our most vulnerable across the state.

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Nursing home operators have said the wait for testing left them nearly powerless in stopping the virus from entering their facilities and spreading.

The Texas Health Care Association (THCA) said that's why some decided to do the testing themselves.

"Took their own independent steps saying, ‘Hey, we're not certain we can wait, so we're going to proceed forward, again, to figure out and to see what's in our facilities right now so we can work to prevent,’" Kevin Warren, CEO and president of the Texas Health Care Association.

That's the decision HMG Healthcare made.  

It operates 24 skilled nursing and rehabilitation centers in Texas, four of them in North Texas.

CEO Derek Prince said they began baseline testing all residents, patients, and employees for covid-19 in early May.

He said that allowed them to properly isolate and quarantine those infected.

"When you look at the long-term care profession prior to COVID, there were significant financing issues in terms of reimbursements,” Warren added. “So what we've seen with the needs and resources necessary to battle this virus, it's only exacerbated those needs."

Gov. Abbott has said costs for COVID-19 testing will be reimbursed, but facilities argue that state and federal funding is needed now in order to sustain these efforts.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that it has begun distributing billions in additional relief funds to skilled nursing facilities.

But advocates point out that no relief is in sight for assisted living facilities and other long-term care providers stricken by COVID-19.

The THCA plans to work with legislators on that.

"What I hope that it results in, with the legislature, is a really a greater look at, are we providing all the necessary resources and support to caring for the elderly in Texas that we need to be? Are we making that commitment to the elderly in Texas that they deserve?" Warren said.

Nursing homes are also still struggling to obtain PPE and staffing is another big concern.

RELATED: Interactive map of Texas COVID-19 cases