SAN ANTONIO – Editor’s note: Watch the 10 p.m. Nightbeat on KSAT12 for more on this story.
A second health care worker at Southeast Nursing and Rehabilitation Center is now describing what she witnessed inside the long-term care facility in the days leading up to a deadly outbreak of COVID-19.
As of Monday, 16 residents had died — nearly half of the county death toll related to the virus — and more than 100 residents and staff were still battling the virus. Last week, a former staff therapist told KSAT that she resigned after warning management of another staff member’s potential exposure 10 days before the outbreak was publicly announced.
“I did the job. And they know that. They know it, and they know I’m angry. I am angry. I am. I’m angry,” said Minnie Monroe, a vocational nurse who said she has worked at the nursing home in the 4300 block of Southcross the past 12 years.
Monroe, who agreed to be identified as long as we did not show her face on television, said she last worked March 27. The outbreak was publicly announced by local officials on March 31.
In the days leading up to her last shift, after the pandemic had reached San Antonio, Monroe said two episodes at the nursing home were concerning to her.
First, she said employees started leaving open the doors to the wing she worked in.
Monroe said that allows patients to be checked on quickly when fewer staff members are working but creates an environment in which the virus can spread easier and faster. She said it runs counter to guidance issued by the CDC for health care workers.
Then, days before the last shift she worked, Monroe said a health care worker left the facility, went to a store and after returning, went back to caring for patients without washing their hands or having their temperature checked.
Monroe said employees had been instructed to have their temperature checked and to wash their hands each time they entered the facility, per CDC guidance in place for long-term care facilities.
“That Friday I waited to get off. My relief never showed up,” said Monroe, who said she approached a manager on March 27 about taking some time off because of concerns about her own health unrelated to COVID-19.
“He told me I took an oath. That bothered me. He said ‘we’re not giving vacations right now.' And he walked off,” said Monroe, who claims her physician even provided management a letter recommending that she be given some relief days.
On March 27, city health officials received a second report of someone at the facility being sick, according to a timeline provided a city spokesperson.
Less than a week later, health officials confirmed a localized outbreak of the virus had occurred inside Southeast Nursing. (See a timeline below.)
Monroe said she did not show up for her shifts the next week but has so far not been given any notice from the facility about her employment status.
A spokesperson representing Southeast Nursing and Rehabilitation declined to discuss Monroe’s status or the circumstances of her departure, writing in an email to KSAT that the facility has a responsibility and obligation to protect her privacy and employment record.
The spokesman also did not respond to the allegations made by Monroe and instead released the following statement:
"Currently, our total focus is the protection of the people who live and work at Southeast. When the pandemic is over, there will be a number of examinations to determine how, when and what happened here and across the nation, but for now, all of us have more questions than answers. Be assured that Southeast immediately implemented each and every directive from the local and national health authorities.
“We understand that many professionals are experiencing enormous stress and really want to understand why and how this happened. Our prayers are with them and certainly with those who are caring for vulnerable seniors in difficult situations.”
Monroe’s claims come days after the staff occupational therapist at Southeast Nursing provided the KSAT 12 Defenders copies of text messages sent to two supervisors for the rehabilitation company she works for and Southeast’s administrator. The messages — sent more than a week before the outbreak was announced — raised concerns that a fellow therapist who had possibly been exposed to COVID-19 continued to work shifts for an entire week instead of self-quarantining.
One of the woman’s supervisors responded to her via text message with the CDC guidelines in place at the time and wrote that non-symptomatic employees needed to self-monitor and continue to work.
A spokesperson for Texas Health and Human Services confirmed last week the agency is investigating Southeast Nursing’s infection control practices, whether it properly screened staff and providers of critical services to residents and whether it has been following COVID-19 related guidance from state and federal authorities.
City health officials have so far not provided information on what possibly caused the deadly outbreak at the facility.
Earlier this month, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg updated the city’s stay at home order to prohibit health care employees from working at multiple facilities during the ongoing pandemic.
The amendment came after city officials learned that staff at Southeast Nursing had worked at at least five other care facilities in Bexar and Wilson counties in recent weeks.
State nursing records show Monroe was licensed in October 1963 and has no current disciplinary actions against her.
Monroe received a reprimand with stipulations from the Texas Board of Nursing in April 2013 after an investigation determined she failed to notify a physician in January 2011 that a patient who had fallen at a nursing facility had abnormal vital signs including a very low pulse.
The patient later died and Monroe’s “conduct may have contributed to the patient’s subsequent demise," state records show.
Monroe completed the stipulations in May 2015, according to a clearance letter from the Texas Board of Nursing.
Monroe said she was tested for COVID-19 April 3 and learned April 6 that the results were negative.
“I treated people the way I wanted to be treated because I’m old. I’m old. And this is what I told them: ‘I treated those people like they were my mother or somebody related to me or myself because I’m old.' So, yes sir, I’m angry,” said Monroe.
COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new virus, stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, but spread around the world in early 2020, causing the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic in March.
MORE CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE FROM KSAT:
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- Resources from World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, City of San Antonio