While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected every facet of American society, some of the most vulnerable epicenters have been nursing homes, where a combination of close proximity and weakened immune systems created an ideal ground for infection. Texas’ KRHD 25 News, the Houston Chronicle and Texas Tribune discovered that Texas veterans homes were some of the worst places to be in terms of infections and deaths.
According to KHRD 25, in 2020, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush took control of Texas veterans homes and promised a shakeup in the way that the facilities would handle the pandemic. Unfortunately, according to the investigative findings of these news teams, that shakeup did not prevent the veterans homes from having nearly twice the rates of COVID fatalities compared to the rest of the state.
Texas has nine state-run veterans homes. Those homes are located in Amarillo, Big Spring, Bonham, El Paso, Floresville, Houston, McAllen, Temple, and Tyler. Seven of those homes had a COVID fatality rate of 25% or higher, more than double the Texas average of 11% fatalities. In total, out of 570 infections reported in veterans homes, 134 patients died.
One factor for the high rate of deaths may have to do with the residents themselves. Most of the Texas veterans home residents are older than other nursing home residents, and they often have chronic conditions which can leave their immune system diminished. Another factor could be that despite the fact that these companies are listed as state-run, they are actually split up and managed by two private contracting companies.
Texas VSI runs three of the veterans homes in the state. Despite having responsibility for a minority of the homes, they have had 40% of the deaths. The other company, Touchstone Communities, oversees the other six homes and has been cited for placing residents in “immediate jeopardy” and causing failures that amounted to “actual harm” being done to residents.
When the Tribune-Chronicle presented these findings to Mr. Bush’s office, he vowed to improve the situation by not renewing the contracts of the contractors and promising to start over from scratch.