Kerrville nursing home staffer details ‘missteps’ she believes led to deadly COVID-19 outbreak

Nine residents died after contracting COVID-19 at Waterside Nursing and Rehabilitation

KERRVILLE, Texas – A veteran employee of a Kerrville nursing home overrun by COVID-19 cases earlier this year says facility administration failed to take the proper steps to prevent the virus from spreading once it was brought inside the facility.

The staff member of Waterside Nursing and Rehabilitation, who requested that her voice and identity be disguised out of fear of losing her job, said she believes COVID-19 was accidentally brought into the building in the 1200 block of Water Street sometime in October.

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State and federal records that track coronavirus cases in nursing homes in the United States detail the devastating toll the virus has had on the facility.

Texas Health and Human Services records updated as of November 9 show the cumulative number of cases among Waterside residents and staff members had reached 116.

Seven residents had died from the virus as of that same date, records show. HHSC officials recently increased the death toll among Waterside residents to nine.

“There was no structure there, there was no order whatsoever. So everything was all over the place,” the employee told the Defenders.

Group text messages sent between Waterside nurses and administrator Heather Foley may offer some clues about what may have contributed to the spread of the virus.

On October 28, Foley texted the group, “If anyone has tested positive but isn’t showing symptoms they can be here.”

Foley has not responded to multiple requests for comment about the virus spreading through Waterside.

A communications person hired by Waterside’s parent company, Elliott Griffin, explained the approach to staffing in an email sent late last month:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have permitted COVID positive staff to care for COVID positive nursing home patients in emergency staffing situations, laying out these guidelines in their crisis capacity strategies.

However, the Waterside employee told the Defenders staff assigned to the facility’s COVID unit were allowed to come and go from that floor to other parts of the building during their shifts and in some cases even left the facility, until finally being told the practice needed to stop in early November.

Waterside's administrator apologizes to staff members in a Nov. 8 text message.
Waterside's administrator apologizes to staff members in a Nov. 8 text message. (KSAT)

Group text message records sent between nurses and Foley show that on Nov. 8, Foley wrote that staff assigned to the COVID unit could no longer leave that floor during their shifts.

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“This was a misunderstanding on my part. So my apologies for any misinformation that was relayed,” wrote Foley.

Griffin told the Defenders via email the change in policy, requiring staff to not leave the COVID floor during their shifts, had actually been handed down October 10.

A temporary barrier set up inside Waterside Nursing and Rehabilitation after an outbreak of coronavirus cases.
A temporary barrier set up inside Waterside Nursing and Rehabilitation after an outbreak of coronavirus cases. (KSAT)

Officials have not said why the policy was not properly communicated to some nurses by Foley until Nov. 8.

Group text message records provided to the Defenders also show nurses discussing specific medical information about some patients, including how much of the sedative Ativan to give one resident.

No word on mitigation efforts

City of Kerrville officials have directed all inquiries from the Defenders back to Foley and have not said what, if any, mitigation efforts they are assisting with to help control the further spread of the virus inside Waterside.

Kerrville city and health officials hosted a virtual community update on Nov. 20 during which they outlined a rise in cases in the Hill Country community.

Officials, however, did not include a way for reporters to ask questions during the livestream.

Griffin said via email Nov. 23 that there were seven active COVID cases among the facility’s employees and five active cases among its residents.

Investigators with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission will attempt to determine why the outbreak occurred inside Waterside.

HHSC officials have not said how long the investigation would take, but that an update may be available in the coming weeks.

Earlier this year an East Side San Antonio nursing home designated to house elderly COVID-19 patients was hit with fines totaling more than $120,000 after state investigators determined conditions inside the facility put the health and safety of its residents in immediate jeopardy.

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