The Denton State Supported Living Center has a cluster of COVID-19 cases. Through Tuesday, 50 residents and 23 staff members had tested positive for the virus.
Outside the facility, caretakers anxiously await information about their loved ones.
Stephanie Kirby’s son Petre is a resident at the Denton State Supported Living Center. He’s a nonverbal 27-year-old with special needs and a history of self-injury.
Full coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak and how it impacts you
“He bangs his head, punches his face, scratches his face,” Kirby said. “He has to have a state supported living center.”
A bag of rubber balls and multicolored string sit on Kirby’s kitchen countertop. The toys are more valuable than most people would think.
“Everybody knows Petre because of his strings,” she said. “He holds his strings and shakes them in front of his face, and he has his bouncy balls that he bounces nonstop.”
For Petre, the toys are essential. The rubber balls and string are source of joy. It’s joy Kirby hasn’t witnessed in 18 days.
“The last time I saw him and left him, and hugged and kissed him goodbye, he was sitting on the patio drinking his chocolate milkshake,” she said.
Now that the facility has reported dozens of cases of COVID-19 among residents and staff, no visitors are allowed.
It’s troubling for Kirby, who adopted her son many years ago after a trip to Romania. She said she was concerned about his mental and emotional state.
“There is no way anybody can explain to him, ‘It’s OK, mom will be back. She wasn’t like your birth mother and abandoned you,’” she said. “There is no way anybody can explain to him what happened. He knew mom was there a couple times a week with his routine, and then one day mom vanished.”
Kirby said the staffers who watch her son around the clock do their best to let her know her son is OK.
“I have very good relations with everyone up there. They are wonderful people,” she said. “When I do talk the staff, each day I say please tell him, 'Mama is coming back and she loves you.'"
But she said information from top administration is slow and inconsistent. She said much of what she knows about what’s happening inside the facility comes from the news and hearsay.
“I have three TVs. Each one of them is on a different local station, grasping for information. I scour the internet,” she said. “What I want is more information about the policy. The emergency things that are in place.”
In the meantime, her son remains behind the gates of the facility, on a campus with a growing number of COVID-19 cases.
“He can’t say anything back to me, but he can just know I didn’t abandon him," she said.
Kirby said she was told the facility was working to set up a device for FaceTime. But she said that was two weeks ago and she still has not been able to communicate with her son.
NBC 5 reached out Tuesday to representatives for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to ask about standard procedure for keeping families informed.