As COVID-19 cases across Texas continue to spike, a Lakeway assisted living facility says its staff is diligently investigating claims of inadequate care while a nearby independent living center continues its fight to be included on the state’s vaccination priority lists.
At the heart of the issue are family members of residents at Arbor Terrace Lakeway and Lake Travis Independent Living who voiced concerns about the risks faced by their loved ones within the facilities.
In September, local attorney Doug Powell placed his 88-year-old father, Jimmy Powell, and 85-year-old mother, Hazel Powell, in Lake Travis Independent Living. The couple moved from the East Texas town of Crockett because Jimmy Powell’s eyesight was deteriorating and Hazel Powell was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Powell said he needed to get his parents closer to him to help with their care. When the family toured the center in September, its staff said the facility had no cases of COVID-19, he said.
However, protocols changed and in November the facility reopened its central dining facility after being closed since before the elder couple moved in, he said. Before the reopening, residents received meals in their rooms, Powell said.
On Dec. 30, Powell removed his parents from the facility to house them in his Ridge at Alta Vista home. He said he was afraid they would catch COVID-19 “because there were so many active cases” in the center at that time, making him think “they weren’t safe to be there.”
The Texas Health and Human Services department maintains a spreadsheet of COVID-19 case counts for each nursing and assisted living facility, as reported by each facility. However, Lake Travis Independent Living center is not listed in the data.
Powell said he was told by the facility’s executive director on Jan. 5 that the center had 27 residents who tested positive for COVID-19, with five in the hospital and the remainder quarantined in their rooms. He said he saw that the facility had protocols in place to screen visitors and residents but felt staff opened up the dining room too soon.
In a Jan. 6 email response to the View, William Swearingen, senior vice president of sales and marketing at the center’s corporate office, Spectrum Retirement Communities, said Lake Travis Independent Living is not listed on the state’s website documenting COVID-19 cases because the facility does not provide care to residents as do skilled nursing and assisted living communities.
“That said, we are following all CDC, and federal, state and local health care authority guidelines,” he said. “We have taken a conservative approach throughout the pandemic, implementing more restrictive protocols than may be required for an independent living community for the health and safety of our residents and team members. This approach includes limiting or suspending in-person dining and visitation as cases in the area rise and in line with Austin–Travis County guidelines.”
According to Swearingen, the community’s current positive COVID-19 cases occurred after the Thanksgiving holiday and the facility “had successfully minimized the impact of the pandemic on residents prior to the holiday season.”
However, he declined to provide how many residents and employees are currently positive for the disease.
Swearingen said residents had not been vaccinated for the coronavirus but staff has been advocating for independent living centers to be included in the first group of COVID-19 vaccine allocations. He said Lake Travis Independent Living is “monitoring the timing for independent living communities in Texas as the health and safety of our residents and team members are top priorities.”
“Please let these family members know that we are available to directly answer any questions or address any concerns they may have about our response,” he said.
Last week, things looked a little brighter for two sisters — one who lives in Spicewood and one in the Westlake area — whose hospitalized mother is receiving her final treatments of Remdesivir, an antiviral medication used to combat the COVID-19 infection in her body, according to one daughter, who requested anonymity for fear her mother’s care would suffer if she publicly voiced negative concerns about the facility.
The daughter of the 88-year-old resident of the Arbor Terrace Lakeway, an assisted living facility, said she received a phone call from a staffer on New Year’s Eve that her mother had tested positive for the coronavirus after not feeling well earlier in the week. Although emergency medical services were called to the facility, the daughter said first responders did not take her mother to the hospital because she did not have a fever and her vital signs looked good.
However, her mother took a turn for the worse eight days later and was hospitalized with a low oxygen level and fever, her daughter said. Blind but in good mental health, she said her mother lives alone at the center.
“At her weakest point with COVID, she was so weak and shaky, she could barely get out of bed to go to the restroom,” her daughter said. “That night, she slipped and slid down (to the floor), rolled over onto her arm and laid there.”
Her daughters had previously placed three video cameras in their mother’s unit to ensure her care was sufficient and one daughter said the facility staff knew about the cameras. The video from one of those cameras showed, despite ringing for help several times, that no facility member came to her aid for 40 minutes, her daughter said. The women viewed the recording after receiving a call from the center that their mother had fallen during the night but was OK.
The family reported its findings to the center’s staff and was told the facility is “understaffed” as employees have been calling in sick, the daughter said. However, she said she was told by an employee that the center would be interviewing potential hires from a temporary agency to add “dedicated staff” to check on residents diagnosed with COVID-19.
In a Jan. 6 email to the View, the Arbor submitted the following statement:
“We take seriously our responsibility to respond to our residents’ needs and are committed to providing them with the best care possible at all times. Anything that falls short of this commitment is unacceptable, and we are diligently looking into this issue.
“We have talked directly with the family, offered our sincere apology and shared with them how we plan to investigate and address their concerns,” the statement said. “We also shared steps our community is taking to care for all residents, including adding key leaders and resident care and operations experts from the Arbor Company on-site this week to assist us as we navigate this unprecedented global pandemic. To protect our residents and staff, we continue to follow all state and local guidance as well as the extensive safety protocols we have in place.”
The statement said the facility had it first COVID-19 vaccine clinic last week, providing the first dose to all eligible residents and staff members.
Additionally, the center’s spokesperson said the Lakeway facility has 76 residents and provides a webpage to apprise residents, families and staff of the current number of positive COVID-19 cases in the facility. As of Jan. 8, that website showed seven assisted living residents and four staff members diagnosed with COVID-19.