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Cornelius News

County health officials in near-daily contact with Autumn Care of Cornelius

May 12. By Dave Yochum. UPDATED 4 pm. The dramatic increase in deaths at Autumn Care in Cornelius may be tapering off. Employees say there have been no new deaths since Friday when the NC Dept. of Health & Human services reported there were a total of 18 deaths.

UPDATE: No new COVID-19 deaths at Autumn Care as of 4 pm today. Only one new resident case of COVID-19, no new staff cases.

On April 27, there were only 10 deaths at Autumn Care, a private business that has a ground lease on a portion of the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church senior campus on Zion Avenue.

Mecklenburg County Health officials have apparently taken notice of the number of deaths at Autumn Care, which over the weekend accounted for 29 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the county, regardless of age or whether they occurred in congregate living settings, like nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

The county health department has been in contact with NCDHHS and the NC Division of Health Service Regulation—the state licensing entity—to discuss the facility.

County health officials engaged with long-term care facilities beginning in March to review current guidance and key COVID-19 preparation measures including restricting visitors, reviewing response plans, and ensuring adequate personal protective equipment.

One nursing home operator said some local long-term care facilities locked down sooner than others. The outbreak at Autumn Care is stunning, with 18 COVID-19 deaths in roughly two months.

Daily contact

Since the first cases were reported at Autumn Care, county health staff has had near daily contact with the facility to review current cases and status of residents and staff.

But employees said Autumn Care was overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s unknown whether the outbreak at Autumn Care initiated through patient visitors or staff. Data from the NCDHHS indicate that 23 staff tested positive for COVID-19, while 40 residents tested positive. All 18 who died were residents.

Because nursing homes serve many residents and they are typically at-risk—older or disabled adults often with underlying chronic medical conditions—nursing home populations are at the highest risk of being affected by COVID-19 and becoming seriously ill or dying.

The Pines

At The Pines at Davidson, three additional staff have tested positive for the virus, for a total of four staff members. None of the three individuals exhibited COVID-19 symptoms at the time they were tested. They are now isolating at their homes until they are eligible to return to work pursuant to government guidelines.

National crisis

As off April 23, more than 10,000 residents and staff in long-term care facilities across the U.S. have died from COVID-19 infections, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of state by state data. That number is an undercount since not all states are currently reporting such data.

“The situation in many nursing homes is an emergency. It may be time to consider sending military health response teams to nursing homes and temporarily moving nursing home residents who are able to community and rural hospitals where there is room,” said Drew Altman, KFF CEO.

A cross section of the population

As a nursing facility participating in both Medicare and Medicaid, Autumn Care has admissions from throughout the greater community, and therefore a broader cross-section of visitors from the greater community.

Autumn Care employees, who spoke to Cornelius Today on the condition of anonymity, said there has been more than one outbreak at Autumn Care. “Ever since the first outbreak, we continued asking to be tested just for our own good,” one said.

It was announced only recently that testing would begin on all employees, the employee said, explaining that staff members went between COVID-19 corridors where patients were isolated, and “neighborhoods” where patients had shown no symptoms.

Community support

Peninsula resident Elise Redmond is organizing a card and craft drive to help lift spirits at the facility. She will collect items, which can include cards, adult color books and puzzles, and take them to Autumn Care and leave them in a designated place outside. Reach her at elise.redmond@premiersir.com

Former Town Commissioner Dave Gilroy said, “municipalities simply have to help any way they can.”

Of course, public resources are scarce at all levels, even more so during a crisis

In February 2019, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services fined Autumn Care $10,342 for deficiencies that included the center’s “lack of a complete care plan that meets all the resident’s needs.”