Families, staff describe hot conditions for COVID-19 overflow patients at East Side nursing home

‘They had him in his boxers, laying on towels.'

Families, staff describe hot conditions for COVID-19 overflow patients at East Side nursing home

SAN ANTONIO – Staff at an east San Antonio nursing home designated earlier this year to house COVID-19 positive patients say elevated room temperatures over the weekend caused medical distress for a number of patients, at least two of whom later died.

A Metropolitan Health Department spokeswoman confirmed Friday five residents of the River City Care Center, located in the 900 block of Nolan Street, have died from COVID-19 complications since March.

The spokeswoman said Friday the health department did not have the figures broken down by whether the residents lived at the facility full-time or were brought there after testing positive for the virus at another long-term care facility.

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River City was one of two San Antonio nursing homes chosen by public and health officials in April to house COVID-19 positive patients from other area facilities who did not require hospital care.

The other facility, Westover Hills Rehabilitation and Healthcare, backed out of the plan days later after facing intense scrutiny.

An employee at River City, who requested anonymity, told the KSAT 12 Defenders Friday air conditioning issues at the building on July 4 caused a number of residents to suffer significant medical problems.

The employee said one resident, William M. Doria, was taken by ambulance to a hospital.

Another resident, an elderly woman, died at the facility, said the employee, who described residents being stripped down to their undergarments and laying on towels or thin sheets to try to stay cool.

The employee said a number of residents who have family members in San Antonio were able to get them to purchase fans, which were then dropped off at the East Side facility.

“This should never happen to anybody again.”

Family members of Doria said Friday he was taken to River City last month after briefly being hospitalized with mild COVID-19 symptoms.

They said Doria, 96, was unable to return home where he lives with his son because his son had also contracted the virus and was battling much worse symptoms.

Doria’s family said they learned Monday that after temperatures inside River City became hot on Saturday, he developed a high fever, his blood pressure went down and his breathing became heavy, deep and fast.

“They had him in his boxers, laying on towels, so he wouldn’t be laying directly on the plastic mattress,” said his daughter-in-law Shannon Terry.

“He was severely, severely dehydrated,” said Terry, repeating what a nurse told her after Doria was taken to a hospital.

After a brief stay in hospice, Doria died earlier this week.

“This should never happen to anybody again,” said Terry.

Doria, a World War II veteran who served in both the Air Force and Navy and whose baseball career was highlighted by the San Antonio Express-News in December, will be laid to rest next to his wife next week.

“It makes it ten times worse knowing that my grandfather served for his country, then for people to sit there and neglect him, and just not care for him at all,” said his granddaughter Cheyenne Doria, who was overcome by emotion several times during an interview Friday.

“I would do anything for that man and to just hear him talk one more time. I’m sorry,” said Cheyenne Doria.

“She was complaining that she was hot.”

Esteban Aguirre’s mother, Amelia, was transferred to River City in early May after contracting COVID-19 but surviving an outbreak at another San Antonio long-term care facility, The Rio at Mission Trails.

RELATED: Sources confirm COVID-19 outbreak at second Southeast Side nursing home

Aguirre said Friday his mother should have been brought back to The Rio last month, after testing negative for the virus in separate tests conducted four days apart.

Instead, Aguirre said she remained at River City because of a clerical error.

“Somebody in there had misspelled, or put the incorrect name on my mom’s information,” Aguirre said via telephone Friday.

Aguirre said he went to River City Saturday after his mother complained that temperatures inside the facility had become unbearable.

“When I saw my mom’s condition, she was laying on her bed almost falling off the bed and she didn’t look too well,” said Aguirre, who could see her through the window outside her room.

Aguirre’s mother was transferred back to The Rio on Monday.

Records obtained by the Defenders on Friday show last July, an inspector found temperatures inside the facility as high as 82.9 degrees.

The inspector described the air temperature in one room as “hot” and noted that a resident was seen on a bed wearing only shorts with a fan blowing directly on his face.

A Texas Health and Human Services spokeswoman declined to release specific information Friday about cooling issues at River City but did release the following statement via email:

“Protecting the health, safety and well-being of the people residing in facilities we regulate is our top priority. We are actively investigating this facility to assess compliance with all relevant health and safety rules. Once our investigation work is complete, the final report for the investigation can be requested through our open records process.”

The spokeswoman provided the rules for cooling, ventilation and heating systems in nursing facilities from the Texas Administrative Code: The cooling system must be capable of maintaining a temperature suitable for the comfort of the residents in resident-use areas.

Gary Blake, president and co-founder of River City’s parent company Creative Solutions in Healthcare, declined to comment Friday and said via text message to instead reach out to a public relations person.

The PR person sent an email requesting a list of questions so she could assist with a response.

Late Friday, the PR person released the following statement:

As you are aware, all current patients at River City Care Center are COVID-positive. Many of our patients at River City Care Center are dealing with not only a COVID positive diagnosis, but have underlying health conditions, as well. For this reason, we provide our patients with the highest standard of care and monitor their health for any change in condition that might require hospitalization. In addition, all efforts are made to ensure conditions in our facility consistently meet or exceed all health and safety standards. As we reported to the City of San Antonio, an HVAC unit which serves a common area in the building was serviced over the weekend. None of the units which service residential rooms was out of operation during this time, however staff purchased small air conditioning units and fans to cool areas which were warmer than usual due to outside temperatures. Temperatures in the building are being monitored and the portable a/c units and fans will be used as needed. Creative Solutions in Healthcare took over operation of RCCC last year, and since that time has made improvements to the building which continue today. As San Antonio and Bexar County face rising COVID case numbers, we understand the difficulty many in our community are experiencing and will continue to offer our care and support to those in need. Due to privacy concerns, we will not comment on the health information of our patients, however those who have recovered are released after two consecutive negative COVID tests.

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About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Dale Keller is senior news photographer at KSAT-12.