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Nursing home accuses state of not helping with testing

CHARLESTON — A nursing home in southern West Virginia at the center of an outbreak of the novel coronavirus accused the state Wednesday of not rushing to help test residents and staff.

According to the governor’s office, Princeton Health Care Center in Mercer County reported an outbreak at the facility connected to someone returning from Myrtle Beach, S.C.

As of Thursday, there are 28 active COVID-19 cases at the 80-bed facility with three deaths linked to the outbreak. Currently, only seven people linked to the facility have any symptoms.

According to Princeton Center, all 279 residents and staff at Princeton Center were tested on July 23 during its third round of mass testing. The Princeton Rescue Squad is assisting with a fourth round of testing, which was expected to be completed by Thursday.

The West Virginia National Guard also is assisting the facility.

“The National Guard, on my order, is running to the fire,” Justice said. “We’re going to test everyone there and try to suppress this situation and suppress it immediately.”

“(The Department of Health and Human Resources) was informed that a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 after exposure to someone outside of the facility who had traveled to Myrtle Beach,” said Allison Adler, spokesperson for DHHR, in a statement Thursday. “(DHHR) Secretary (Bill) Crouch has been in contact with the administrator of the nursing home and has offered any further assistance that they may need.”

In a statement posted on its website Wednesday, Princeton Center said it was unaware the outbreak was linked to Myrtle Beach. Stefanie Compton, administrator for Princeton Center, said the facility first requested assistance from the state on July 7 when a staff member tested positive for COVID-19, but help was not forthcoming.

“Our team requested assistance and mass testing from local and state health officials on and before July 7, 2020,” Compton said. “We were denied such testing per local and state health officials.”

After receiving a notice in writing from a regional epidemiologist with the Department of Health and Human Resources that it wasn’t recommended to test all residents and staff and that the state lab would not be able to handle the increased testing, Princeton Center sought other options.

“Our team called other labs to try to secure mass testing as well,” Compton said. “We were unable to do the testing on our own because the labs in our area/state were back logged and they at that time did not have the supplies that were needed.”

Adler pushed back on Compton’s claims. According to Adler, the Department of Health and Human Resources was first notified of a positive case at Princeton Place on June 30, but department officials were told by the facility that it already made arrangements for testing through LabCorp and had its own testing supplies.

“DHHR’s Center for Threat Preparedness Health Command reached out to Princeton Health Care Center, and the nursing home confirmed that they had made arrangements for facility-wide testing of residents and staff,” Adler said. “The nursing home advised they had the swab kits available for the testing and that LabCorp would be doing the testing of the samples.”

Adler said the July 7 positive case at Princeton Care was the second case reported during a seven-day period. According to Adler, the state implemented a new policy July 16 that required weekly testing when a single case of COVID-19 was identified in a resident or staff member at a nursing home or long-term care facility. The policy is based on guidelines from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as well as conversations with health experts and the nursing home industry.

“When Princeton Health Care Center encountered a second case of COVID-19 on July 7, 2020, the state had not yet initiated weekly testing,” Adler said. “On July 17, 2020, Princeton Health Care Center alerted DHHR’s Health Command of two residents testing positive for COVID-19 and requested testing support. That same day, DHHR Health Command coordinated the second round of facility-wide testing.”

During the Wednesday coronavirus briefing by Justice and state health officials, DHHR Secretary Crouch confirmed that the state lab had been experiencing longer wait times for test results from the DHHR lab in South Charleston along with LabCorp, one of the state’s commercial testing partners.

“They pledged to get that timeline down and they’re now running four to five days…we’re hoping those times are dropping for getting results back,” Crouch said. “It’s very hard to test nursing homes once a week, for example, if you can’t get the results back by the time you need to do a second round of testing.”

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