HARLINGEN, Texas – Following an outbreak of COVID-19 at a rehabilitation home in the city, Harlingen health officials are getting tough with local nursing homes.

Dr. Michael Mohun, Health Authority for the City of Harlingen, has issued a directive that prevents nursing homes and long term health care facilities in the city from sharing health care staff and support staff.

The directive also prohibits the transfer of residents at nursing homes and long term health care facilities to other facilities.  

The Health Control Directive was issued on Sunday. According to a news release issued by the City of Harlingen, Mohun was issuing the directive “to prevent the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the community.”

The directive was issued under Section 81.082 of the Texas Health & Safety Code.

An unknown number of staff and patients at the Veranda Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Harlingen have contracted the COVID-19 virus. It is feared the virus has spread from the nursing home into the community. 

The new City of Harlingen directive mandates that each facility immediately initiates the Screenings and Protocols of the Centers for Disease Control.   

Furthermore, each facility must provide a copy of its comprehensive COVID-19 response plan that includes:

  • Rapid identification and management of ill residents
  • Considerations for visitors and consultant staff
  • Supplies and resources
  • Sick leave policies and other occupational health considerations
  • Education and training
  • Surge 
  • for staffing, equipment and supplies, and postmortem care.

“Dr. Mohun’s directive is a result of the recent spike in COVID-19 positive cases which the City has reason to believe is being caused by the movement of health care staff and health care support staff moving between different nursing homes and long term health care facilities, as well as to and from local health care facilities,” the City’s news release states.

“This directive is effective immediately and failure to comply could result in civil and criminal enforcement action.”

Veranda Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Harlingen.

On Tuesday, March 31, the Rio Grande Guardian received an anonymous tip that patients at the Veranda Nursing Home were being moved out of the facility because COVID-19 had been detected.

The Rio Grande Guardian contacted the facility’s administrator Jason Hess. He said Tuesday:

“I am not aware of any current situation involving the transfer of residents out of the Facility for any reason unrelated to the individual resident’s existing clinical condition and related needs. In addition, we do not have any residents presently in the facility who have tested positive for COVID-19.”

The Rio Grande Guardian did not want to take any chances and contacted Cameron County Public Health. They swooped in and found patients and staff at the facility had contracted COVID-19.

Later on Tuesday, Cameron County Judge Treviño confirmed that an outbreak of the coronavirus had been discovered at Veranda. He said three of its employees had contracted COVID-19.

The Rio Grande Guardian contacted the nursing home’s administrator again to see if he wished to revise his previous comment. Hess responded: “No further comment at this time.”

By Thursday, more positive cases had been detected at Veranda. Judge Treviño said: “The new cases include seven linked to the Veranda nursing home in Harlingen. Of these seven, five are employees, one is a 75-year-old patient of the facility and one who is a family member of an employee,” he said. “This brings the total of the employees working at the nursing home to nine, of which seven reside in Cameron County. One resides in Hidalgo, one resides in Willacy.”

Treviño added that of those employees, one is in the hospital and the rest are in self-isolation.

Of the 46 positive cases within Cameron County on Thursday, 13 were from Harlingen.

On Friday, another person from Harlingen was confirmed as positive for COVID-19, with the 43 year-old male linked to a previous case.

On Saturday, 11 more positive cases were reported in Harlingen. All but one of the 11 were linked to a previous case. Of the ten Harlingen cases linked to a previous case or cases, one was a 48 male, one was a 69 year-old female, one was a 78 year-old male, one was an 81 year-old male, one was an 81 year-old female, one was an 82 year-old female, one was an 84-year-old male, one as an 87 year-old male, one was an 87 year-old female, and one was an 88 year-old male. 

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Dr. Michael Mohun, Health Authority for the City of Harlingen.