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Cornelius News

Epidemic within a pandemic: Death count now 18 at Autumn Care

May 8. By Dave Yochum. There has been one more death at Autumn Care of Cornelius, the nursing home on Zion Avenue one mile south of Antiquity. The COVID-19 death toll rose from 17 to 18 between Tuesday and today.

As of 4 pm today, there were 40 cases of COVID-19 among residents, up from 39 on Tuesday.

Twenty-three staffers have tested positive for Covid-19, up from 21 on Tuesday, according to the NC Dept. of Health & Human Services.

The situation could worsen, in light of the number of cases reported among both staff and residents at the 102-bed nursing home. Eighteen deaths represents 17.6 percent of Autumn Care population.

The tragedy is that residents may suffer and die virtually alone as face-to-face visitations remain locked down amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 76,000 people, the majority of them over 65, have died of the coronavirus in the United States.

No one in Cornelius government is talking publicly about the Autumn Care outbreak, but former Cornelius Commissioner Dave Gilroy calls it a “horrific local situation.”

While there are any number of citizens advisory boards in Cornelius—the Educational Options Study, Historic Preservation, Land Development Code Advisory Board and Transportation Advisory Board among others—there’s apparently no local review of congregate living facilities.

Instead, it’s a county situation, with county overview. It’s unclear if the county has done an exemplary job, considering the number of COVID-19 outbreaks at congregate living facilities in Mecklenburg in the midst of a worldwide pandemic for which no one was prepared.

We asked the County Health Dept. this question: Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris on Monday said the county is looking into how the virus got so bad at Autumn Care during a virtual coffee chat with Cornelius officials. Can you provide an update? Can you outline the investigation? Are positive Autumn Care employees allowed to work at non-patient contact jobs on site? 

This was the answer from Public Information Officer Danny Diehl: “Public health is working with all long term care facilities to investigate outbreaks, test all residents and staff when outbreaks occur, assure that they have the needed PPE to appropriately protect residents and staff, and provide guidance for care of residents and cleaning in the facility.”


The facility, which opened with a ribbon cutting and lots of public officials five years ago, is divided into separate wings or neighborhoods.

Employees say COVID-19 positive patients are quarantined into one neighborhood. However, staff members travel between the neighborhoods.

COVID-positive workers have been assigned to painting inside, multiple employees said.

Like virtually any healthcare facility, Autumn Care is short-staffed. In an inspection report sent to Cornelius Today, there was “lots of new staff” as well as an admission “they were aware they needed to improve.”

Employees who have reached out to Cornelius Today said patient laundry and kitchen laundry have been mixed and that patients were admitted and discharged as the outbreak was getting under way.

Autumn Care has not returned phone calls from Cornelius Today.

Autumn Care, which is not owned by nearby Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, but sits on church-owned property in their senior campus, is a private business owned by Cleveland-Ohio based Saber Health Care.

Saber said it paid $10 million in fines for Medicare fraud at other locations—not here at Autumn Care—rather than engage in costly and distracting litigation.

“Based on observations, staff interviews, and record review, the facility’s Quality Assessment and Assurance Committee failed to maintain implemented procedures and monitor interventions that the committee put into place in March, 2019,” a Medicare report says.

Autumn Care has been fined $10,000 for various violations at the Cornelius location.

There is apparently little or no reporting to local government. Mayor Woody Washam said he was caught flat-footed by reports in Cornelius Today of an outbreak at Autumn Care.

“I guess the question is whether unusual fines or deficiencies are reported directly to our


Town or at least publicly such that our Cornelius staff should be aware,” Gilroy said. “If we do not currently have good radar for major problems like this, then we absolutely must have it going forward.”

According to the NCDHHS, there are nine long-term care facilities with active COVID-19 outbreaks. Today’s data shows 32 total COVID-19 deaths at Mecklenburg County nursing homes. Autumn Care accounts for 56 percent of them.

Older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 SOURCE: NCDHHS