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For Weeks Midland Nursing Home And Health Department Kept Quiet About Coronavirus Outbreak

By Mitch Borden

For two weeks, as the coronavirus spread among residents and staff at a Midland nursing home, the city's health department and the facility didn’t publicly acknowledge the outbreak.

While the first reported coronavirus case at the facility happened on Aug. 3, it wasn’t until 14 days later that Midland’s health department announced the viral cluster at Ashton Medical Lodge, where almost 60 residents and staff have now tested positive for the coronavirus.

Since Aug. 3, 40 residents at Midland’s Ashton Medical Lodge—which makes up 30% of those who were living at the nursing home when the outbreak began— have tested positive for the coronavirus along with 18 staff members. Days after the first reported case, residents diagnosed with COVID-19 at the facility were transferred to sister facilities across Texas. At least six people have died so far as a result of the outbreak.

City officials announced the existence of the hot spot on Monday, Aug. 17. The reason the outbreak wasn’t identified earlier was the Midland Health Department changed how it reports coronavirus clusters, according to the director of the health department Whitney Craig.

As coronavirus outbreaks at nursing facilities became a problem across the nation, Craig said her department began recommending facilities and businesses “remain transparent and make these [announcements concerning coronavirus cases] to the public.”

She said Midland’s health department specifically didn’t have the power to force nursing homes to announce coronavirus cases.

But, Craig said once it became clear that Ashton Medical Lodge and its parent company, Foursquare Healthcare, had no intention of publicly announcing the recent outbreak, she decided to release the information.

In a statement to Marfa Public Radio, Jordan Moeller, an administrator at Ashton Medical Lodge, said the facility immediately reported all of its COVID-19 cases to Midland County and gave regular updates to its resident’s family members.

“In accordance with state protocols, we immediately report all COVID cases to the county health officer and update the primary contact for each of our residents during our daily family calls,” said Moeller in a prepared statement. “We will continue to work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

Moeller said the nursing home is being deep cleaned and is limiting the amount of contact residents have with employees to limit the spread of the virus.

Ashton Medical Lodge has also been transferring all positive COVID-19 patients to Midland Medical Lodge and to another Foursquare Healthcare facility in Dallas.

Patients are being transferred to these other long-term care facilities, Moeller explained, because both have “advanced infectious disease training and are equipped to provide specialized care to COVID-19 patients.”

The reason the nearby Midland Medical Lodge has been able to provide “specialized care” to at least 13 of the coronavirus patients from Ashton Medical Lodge is the facility had its own significant outbreak of COVID-19 earlier this year.

In April and May, the coronavirus ran rampant through Midland Medical Lodge. Over 60 people connected to the facility tested positive for the coronavirus and at least 10 people died as a result of the outbreak.

The state eventually sent a team of specialists to help get the spread of the virus under control at the care facility. By the time Ashton Medical Lodge residents were transferred to the nursing home, there was only one resident on-site diagnosed with COVID-19.

Midland’s health department has reported at least three new COVID-19 related deaths at Midland Medical Lodge since Ashton Medical Lodge patients were transferred to the nursing home for treatment. Officials, however, did not specify if the patients were originally from Ashton Medical Lodge.

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.