AUSTIN, Texas — Delia Satterwhite says her brother was living at Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation in South Austin when he got COVID-19.
“This one nurse allowed me to talk to my brother through the window,” Satterwhite said. “That’s the way I spoke to him, through the window. And that was the week before he died. And that was the last time I saw him alive.”
Satterwhite said her brother lived in the facility since July 2016.
She said her brother died days after workers there told her he tested positive for coronavirus.
“What precautions did y’all take with your employees?” Satterwhite asked. “And then, what did y’all do to help the residents?”
Satterwhite worries they weren’t caring enough for residents.
But complaints for nursing homes have gone down dramatically since the coronavirus hit.
“It’s because we’re not on site,” Texas Long-Term Care Ombudsman Patty Ducayet said. “It is certainly an effect, I believe.”
Ducayet is the state’s long-term care ombudsman. Her office usually visits nursing homes to hear complaints from residents.
But because of COVID-19, they can only field complaints online or over the phone.
Complaints have plummeted as a result. There were 759 complaints back in January, which dropped to 464 in March. So far in April, there have been 153 complaints.
But fewer complaints doesn’t mean fewer problems.
“We can’t see as many people or reach as many people doing this by phone,” Ducayet said.
Family members like Satterwhite are worried about what virtual visits and a drop in complaints could mean for their loved ones in nursing homes.
“These are people that cannot help themselves,” Satterwhite said. “They’re there under your care. So did you care enough to take precautions to prevent his from spreading to other patients?”
A spokesperson for Riverside would not confirm whether there have been coronavirus cases or deaths at the nursing home.
“Due to privacy laws, we are unable to release information related to any of our patients’ health,” Riverside Spokesperson Michelle Buckalew said. “As requested by the state, if and when a case of COVID-19 is found inside one of our facilities, whether that be a resident or a staff member, we immediately report that information to the appropriate parties.”
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