Judy Lapointe: Our Questions Have Power
Over the last several weeks, I have been greatly saddened by the reports of COVID-19 infections and deaths at the Corpus Christi State Supported Living Center (CCSSLC). I worked there for nearly five years as the community relations director and know many of the residents and employees. The numbers reported by Southside Light News on August 21 were 122 residents out of 183 were infected and 231 employees out of 785 were infected. I believe at least 5 residents have died but the state has not been open about the actual numbers. At least 3 employees have died.
This is an ongoing pandemic and the numbers will surely rise. But, did this outbreak need to happen in the first place? When COVID-19 was first detected in the United States and an outbreak began in New York, the alarms should have gone off. We knew that people who were residents of long term care facilities were at high risk of infection and the workers in these facilities were, as well. The state of Texas operates 13 residential centers for people with disabilities and receives high levels of funding from Medicare and Medicaid to operate the homes. Texas has a responsibility to protect our most vulnerable citizens and the people who work every day to care for them.
So, I think we should examine why CCSSLC has among the highest rates of infection and deaths for both residents and staff. The director of a facility is ultimately responsible for all operations. CCSSLC’s director, Melissa Gongaware, has been in this position for three years. A quick internet search shows she receives a salary of $130,000 annually, thus making her the highest paid living center director in the state. It is fair to assume that in this high-level position, Gongware would be expected to perform at or above her contemporaries in all areas. To help determine if this is the case, we could start by asking a few simple questions. First, has Gongaware worked a minimum of 40 hours per week, and more if necessary, during the last three years? When I was working at the facility, the director was often the first person there and the last to leave. Next, does Gongaware regularly visit the homes of residents to ensure all rules governing the operations of this facility are being followed? This is a requirement of the job and is especially vital since CCSSLC was threatened with closure by regulators for not maintaining a safe environment and not properly using PPE. Finally, has Gongaware met with families to address their concerns and provided compassionate leadership to staff during these difficult times? This seems as if it would be a natural thing to do and should be expected of all directors.
One thing I have learned during this pandemic is that life is short and you should speak up if you see something happening that is wrong. What is happening at CCSSLC is wrong and if the management, both at the local and state level, is unable or unwilling to protect our residents and employees, who will? Together, our questions have the power to save lives. Please join me in demanding the answers.