Rio Grande City nursing home contesting positive test results

Test kits are shown at a newly opened United Memorial Medical Center COVID-19 drive-thru testing site April 27 in Houston. (David J. Phillip | The Associated Press)

Re-testing for COVID-19 is currently underway at a nursing home in Rio Grande City after 74 staff and residents tested positive there for the disease last week.

When Starr County reported a record-setting 106 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, about 60 of them were from the Rio Grande City Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, according to Dr. Jose Vazquez, the county health authority.

Then, they got news of more that remaining brought them to 74.

Those results were from a second round of tests that were administered to the staff and residents there.

The first round of testing was administered by the state as part of a mandate issued by Gov. Greg Abbott to test all staff and residents of nursings homes across the entire state.

Those tests were done through a partnership of the Department of State Health Services, the Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Texas Military Department, or National Guard.

All of those tests for the nursing home were negative.

But after their first resident came back positive — a patient who later on died — everyone there was tested again.

This time, employees and residents were tested by the same companies that are currently handling tests for the county’s drive-thru testing facility — Emergency Diagnostic Solutions collected the samples while Altru Diagnostics, Inc. tested them.

They were tested between Wednesday and Thursday of last week, according to Vazquez, and those positive results started coming in on Saturday.

Those results are not final, though, Vazquez said, as Regency Integrated Health Services – the company that runs Rio Grande City Nursing and Rehab. — ordered employees and staff to be tested for a third time.

“They did not believe that the accuracy of this test was all there and they did not believe that they really had so many positive cases in the nursing home,” Vazquez said, “so the corporate for Regency decided that they were going to retest everybody. Since then they have retested everybody and they are waiting for the results.”

Regency confirmed in a statement Wednesday that there were positive cases among some staff and residents, though the company did not specify how many.

“The residents who tested positive were immediately isolated and the staff members were sent home and will not return to work until medically cleared,” the statement read. “In most of the cases, the people who tested positive were asymptomatic.”

Further, they confirmed staff and residents were being tested once more.

“While we know that testing is a valuable tool in fighting further spread of the coronavirus, we have also discovered many inaccuracies with COVID-19 test results during this pandemic,” the statement read. “Because of this — and out of an abundance of caution, we began re-testing every person inside the Rio Grande City center this week. Those results are not back yet.”

When asked for clarification on the alleged “inaccuracies” with test results, the company stated on Thursday that re-testing was common with large scale test samples such as the entire staff and residents of a nursing home.

“Rio Nursing and Rehabilitation Center is confident in Dr. Vasquez and the Starr County Health Authority,” Thursday’s statement read. “As always, they are attentive in working in the best interests of the county and public, including our patients. We are thankful for the collaboration and ongoing communication.”

While the results of the latest round testing are pending, Vazquez said he advised the facility to have measures in place as if they did have positive cases.

Regency assured that they were continuing to follow “enhanced infection control and prevention processes” which included requiring staff to wear masks and personal protective equipment when appropriate, implementing health screenings prior to entry into the facility, sending home any staff that shows sign or symptom of the illness, implementing dedicated units to separate infected patients, suspending group activities and visitations, and cleaning and sanitizing regularly.

Vazquez also praised the facility, describing their work since the beginning of the pandemic as “exemplary.”

“During this pandemic, we didn’t have a case here until very recently,” he said. “I would not blame the nursing home for what is happening.”