Times staff report
Published 8:11 p.m. MT April 17, 2020
UTEP Safety Specialist Ray Lozano III is fit-testing masks for healthcare workers
El Paso Times
City of El Paso officials said that a health care facility that has seen a cluster of COVID-19 cases had 32 as of Wednesday.
A source who requested anonymity told the El Paso Times that the facility is the El Paso Psychiatric Center. The source is not authorized to speak on behalf of the center.
A staff member at the center at 4615 Alameda Ave. was in intensive care and a psychiatric nursing assistant had died of COVID-19, the source said. There is an atmosphere of fear at the center, which is next to University Medical Center of El Paso, the source added.
Dr. Hector Ocaranza, health authority at the city of El Paso’s Department of Public Health, said that 11 cases initialwere reported at the health care facility. On Wednesday, he would not confirm a report that a person from the facility had died.
On Wednesday, officials again refused to name the facility. Ocaranza cited Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act confidentiality requirements.
However, a news release posted Wednesday on Twitter by the Texas State Employees Union, CWA Local 6186, said, “We are saddened by last night’s report of the death of a State Employee at the El Paso Psychiatric Center.”
It said that over the past weeks, the union and several elected officials have reached out to Gov. Greg Abbott’s office “about the hardships workers are currently facing with COVID-19, and common sense solutions needed to keep the state functioning. Unfortunately, very little has been done to protect both Clients and Staff at State Supported Living Centers, State Hospitals and State Health Science Centers.”
It said that as of Wednesday, “Health and Human Services has reported: 108 State Employees at State Supported Living Centers & State Hospitals have tested positive for COVID-19. This is on-top 120 confirmed cases among clients at these facilities.”
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The union called on the governor to immediately test frontline workers at the state supported living centers, state hospitals and state health science centers, as well as increased funding for additional staffing and hazard pay for all state employees.
In an April 10 email, Christine Mann, chief press officer with the Texas Health & Human Services Commission, said as “of close of business on April 8, 2020, HHSC had received reports of 162 nursing facilities and 33 assisted living facilities located in Texas as having one or more COVID-19 positive resident and/or health care worker. HHSC had received reports of 38 deaths related to COVID-19 in nursing facilities and 9 deaths related to COVID-19 in assisted living facilities located in Texas.”
During an online news conference, city officials were pressed about withholding the name of the facility.
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said, “I think we are being as transparent as we can right now.”
He added, “If identification of a specific entity is required, then certainly we would do that.”
He used past incidents of tuberculosis as an example, saying that city hadn’t historically identified a medical facility.
“We have identified the number of cases, we’ll identify hot spots, we’ll identify where we are in the entire process, but the medical facility, I don’t believe there is any harm being had by any El Pasoan because that name is not out there publicly as disclosed by the city,” he said.
When reminded that other places, including Harris County, are naming facilities, City Attorney Karla Nieman said, “Our approach has been to release information for statistical purposes.”
She said case law does not specify that the name of the facility be released, adding that the name can be released with consent.
She said, “Pursuant to state law, any reports or record of information received by the local health authority is considered confidential by law.”
She said information is released for medical statistical information without identifying information, but includes the type of a facility, clusters, sex and age demographics, “which we interpret as a conservative application of what the health laws require.”
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