COVID-19 patients given unproven drug in Texas nursing home

A physician at a Texas nursing home started giving dozens of elderly COVID-19 patients the anti-malarial hydroxychloroquine in what he has dubbed an "observational study," NPR reports.

Numerous health organizations are currently conducting and tracking clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine's effect on COVID-19, but the FDA has not yet approved the drug. Observational data can be misleading, and the only way to prove a drug's effectiveness is through carefully controlled clinical trials, according to health officials.

Robin Armstrong, MD, medical director at the Resort at Texas City, has administered the drug to 39 COVID-19 patients. After just a few days, some patients on the medication showed improvement, Dr. Armstrong told NPR.

Though Dr. Armstrong said the drug "has virtually no side effects," the FDA has warned that the drug can lead to severe problems for people with heart issues. An EKG should be performed before the medicine is taken, the agency said, a step Dr. Armstrong has implemented. 

Dr. Armstrong said it is difficult to quantify how much improvement is due to the malaria drug, but said no patient is "worse than when they started." 

In total, 87 people at the nursing home have tested positive for COVID-19 — 56 residents and 31 staff members. Dr. Armstrong said he used his political connections as a GOP activist to obtain the medication. He gave the drug to patients he believed would benefit the most, monitoring blood oxygen saturation, temperature and breathing ability. The physician is tracking the daily health changes for each patient and plans to compile the findings in a report.

The physician said some families didn't know their relatives were given the drug, saying that "for the most part" he consulted with each patient before giving them the tablets. Dr. Armstrong said it is not required for physicians to have consent from the patient or family members to prescribe new medications.

Dr. Armstrong said his decision was not affected by politics, but instead based on clinical studies from Europe and China, as well as experiences at HCA Houston Healthcare Mainland Hospital in Texas City, where he is a practicing physician. 

"It's up to a medical professional to determine how and when it would be appropriate to prescribe," Chris Van Deusen, Texas Department of State Health Services spokesperson, told NPR.

More articles on post-acute care:
Washington nursing home faces $600K+ fine, loss of CMS funding after 37 COVID-19 deaths
Indiana nursing home faces backlash after trying to transfer residents, create COVID-19 center
Symptom screening for COVID-19 at nursing homes may not be effective, CDC says

Indiana nursing home faces backlash after trying to transfer residents, create COVID-19 center

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