Wylie Firefighters Help Nursing Homes Test for COVID-19

Firefighters have stepped up to the plate per Gov. Abbott's direction to help test all residents and staff inside nursing homes

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Thursday morning firefighters from the city of Wylie Fire-Rescue administered coronavirus tests for 80 residents and about 110 employees at Founders Plaza Nursing and Rehabilitation.

“This is definitely something new for us, said Wylie Fire-Rescue Chief Brandon Blythe. “Never in my career have we done anything like this.”

On May 11, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and Texas Division of Emergency Management along with Texas Department of State Health Services to test 100% of residents and staff in Texas nursing homes.

The state said local fire departments would be partnering with local public health authorities to help provide testing.

“Our initial reaction was, ‘How are we going to do this?’ because we’ve had a hard time throughout this as everybody has, even getting our own people tested," Blythe said. “The first thought was, we don’t have a testing process, we don’t have our guys trained, definitely an uphill battle."

He said they came up with a solution pretty quickly and reached out to Wylie ER, a 24 /7 emergency room. They spent a day training eight firefighters who volunteered to help out.

“Literally trained the guys how to do it, how to do the swabs in fact we tested all eight firefighters who are in there testing the patients today," said Dr. Joseph Meier, an emergency medical physician with Wylie ER.

“It’s a nasal swab in the nose, it tests for genetic material that’s present in the virus. Send that off to the lab, go ahead and run it see if it's positive or negative, the rest is paperwork," Dr. Meier said.

Chief Blythe said in addition to the eight firefighters who helped with the testing, two additional members were assigned to administration work.

"The Wylie Fire Department is so good, especially with calming down staff, calming down residents, and talking them through it," said Karla Langston, an administrator for Founder Plaza Nursing and Rehabilitation.

She said she was glad to hear about the governor's announcement in regard to testing everyone at the facility.

"We’ve been COVID-19 free, every week we’re cheering on our staff saying ‘COVID free another week,’ so we’re just trying to continue on that path," Langston explained. “This is greatly helping us to where if there is a case, we have our rooms set up we have our quarantine area, we are ready to go if something does happen.”

She said in addition to the government provided tests, she said her corporation is also providing antibody testing for the staff.

“This is amazing, the fire department is amazing, for us to be able to know what’s going on in our facilities is great. Not only that, but we’re doing antibody testing on top of that as well. Our own corporation brought in our antibody testing to compare it to the swab test that we’re doing, so we’ll be doing that for our staff, we’re doing it for that extra layer of protection," Langston explained.

She said she hopes all of this leads them one step closer to allowing visitors back inside the building.

“I think the hardest part, is visitation and stopping visitation. It’s so heartbreaking to see our residents and family members through glass or using a phone and Facetime to contact them," said Langston.

Blythe said they've helped test a total of two long-term care facilities in Wylie along with some residential facilities that have about three to five patients.

He said they've tested around 300 people including firefighters, residents and staff. He said the tests cost about $100 each.

He said the City of Wylie, along with some funds from Collin County helped pay for the tests initially. He said they'll then ask the state for reimbursement.

The state said costs associated with providing these tests are eligible for federal reimbursement.

*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.

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