The safety inspectors walked through the facility, five of them. For four anxious days Lee Rivaz watched and waited as they provided him a list of items to correct before they would approve licensure for the new Cypress Pointe Health and Wellness located at 8561 Easton Commons Dr. in Houston.
The final day of licensure was April 2, 2020 and Rivaz remembered it well.
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When he finally received the keys to open the facility, he had to shut it down on the executive orders from the president of the United States because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was literally at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
When the contractor has completed the final punch list for the building and the safety inspection approved, they hand the building over to the management agency which is ML Health for the Cypress Pointe facility.
“It literally put a damper on our opening,” a disappointed Rivas said.
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Prior to licensure, the state allows a skilled nursing facility such as Cypress Pointe to admit up to three private pay residents.
“We were fortunate to have those three,” he said, but it was all they would have for a spell.
Three patients won’t pay the bills for a $14 million facility, so Rivas and his staff have been busy marketing to attract new patients.
There was some thought and discussion about furloughs because they had hired a full staff to operate and now they were faced with some tough decisions on whether or not to cut back hours or even some positions.
“Not direct care staff but ancillary support jobs we felt we could manage without,” he said.
“We elected not to. We decided to go full steam ahead and work through all of the steps to protect the residents,” the vice president of operations said.
Rivas had a plan.
“When you’re talking about the lives of people and a multi-million-dollar business, you’d better have a plan,” he said.
The plan had been formulated long before the COVID pandemic hit but deserved a reassessment to figure out how to minimize the loss with a slow startup.
As expected, April and May were quiet months for his staff, but not any longer.
The facility is a 124-bed skilled nursing facility with 72 of those reserved for longtime care for Medicaid patients.
“We did a lot of virtual and social media marketing including virtual tours online specifically targeted for families,” he said.
He says they could have been isolated on an island, but the response of the healthcare community has been strong.
“It’s been adventurous partnering with the local health care facilities and hospitals,” he said.
Rivaz and his staff reached out to the frontline workers by providing meals to them and began building relationships.
“They’ve done the same for us as well. We don’t look at other skilled nursing facilities as our competitors in this whole pandemic piece that we’re in,” he said.
While the Health and Human Services (HHS) of the state is normally a regulatory agency, he said it’s felt more like a partnership.
“I think that shows a lot of character from our Houston area and our industry,” he said.
They are currently at 30 patients.
“They’ve come from a variety of arenas,” he said, including from their own homes, hospitals, resident transfers, and more.
Rivaz said he also feels the growth has come from the reputation of his staff who have many years of extensive work in the area.
“It’s more of a reputation standpoint that has helped us,” he said.
Rivaz said other area facilities have seen a decline in their population, and not just from COVID.
“They currently employ more staff and have more residents than we do so their risk of contracting coronavirus is much higher than our smaller staff,” he said.
“We do everything we possibly can to minimize loss. With CMS (Center for Medicare Services), they certainly have allowed skilled nursing facilities to look at other options and so there’s waivers that they have put in place,” he said.
To date, they have no patients or staff that have tested positive for the coronavirus.
He said If there’s a skillable need under Medicare that will allow them to skill in place, they are allowed to triage in house instead of sending someone to the emergency room where there’s an elevated risk of contracting the coronavirus.
Rivaz said they have also minimized in-person visits by doctors where it was possible by using telemedicine.
“Through the CARES Act passed by Congress, it allowed us to procure funds like (for) iPads and other equipment to do the telemedicine,” he said. For the time being, they have four and it’s more than enough to get the job done.
The approximately 50,000-square-foot facility provides occupational, physical, and speech therapy, 24/7 nursing care, and a full activity schedule for residents.
The original grand opening was planned for April, and then postponed until May. With the facility still closed by the state, they opted for a virtual ribbon cutting with the Cy Fair Chamber of Commerce.
“I’ve never done one before, but it only makes sense for us under the circumstances,” he said.
Anyone in the public is welcome to join the staff and the Chamber for the Virtual Ribbon Cutting ceremony on Thursday, July 23, 2020 from noon to 1 p.m. on Zoom by dialing 346-248-7799. The Meeting ID is 889 0608 1763 and the password is 921547. For more information, contact Tamie Palma at 713-927-3116.