COVID-19, public health

Family member says aunt died at Citadel of COVID-19 but he found out from the funeral home

Notes from recently court documents filed against Accordius Health, which owns the Citadel in Salisbury. A new lawsuit includes sworn affidavits of dire conditions, short-staffing and substandard care for the residents.

This story was updated at 5:15 p.m. with comment from Accordius, which owns the Citadel.

In early April, the Citadel, a poorly rated nursing facility in Salisbury, called Ronald Barber to inform him that a resident had tested positive for the new coronavirus and had been sent to Rowan Novant hospital.

It wasn’t his 98-year-old Aunt Dot who was ill, but the facility staff wanted him to know there had been a case of COVID-19.

It was “the last call I ever received from Citadel,” he said.

The next one came from a funeral home.

In a sworn affidavit filed with the court, Barber said that roughly two weeks later, on the morning of April 15, he received a call from James Alexander, director of the Noble & Kelsey funeral home in Salisbury.

“I had no idea why he was calling,” said Barber, who was also his aunt’s power of attorney. Alexander then told him that his Aunt Dot had passed away the day before and the Citadel had sent her body to them.

“I was in shock,” Barber said. “They assumed I knew, but I didn’t … I never received a call from the Citadel to even alert me of any dire condition, much less to tell me that she had passed away. They simply had the funeral home take her away without my knowledge.”

Barber’s sworn affidavit is one of 12 — including several from certified nursing assistants who work or have worked there — alleging rampant substandard care at the Citadel contributed to the deaths of several residents with COVID-19. One CNA said in an affidavit that the facility continued accepting patients after residents had tested positive for the virus; others said they learned of an outbreak from the media.

There were inadequate supplies, too few staff and “the problem of the facility knowing individuals were not going to come in but doing nothing about it,” the CNA said.

A one-star facility, it has also been cited for abuse by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The affidavits were taken by two law firms, Wallace & Graham and Gugenheim Law, who are suing Accordius Health “seeking a comprehensive view of the facility’s policies” to prevent further neglect. The firms and their clients are not asking for monetary damages.

Accoridius spokeswoman Kim Morrow said the company had not see the complaint and could not comment on the allegations.

“It is unfortunate that there has been so much misinformation put out by a source clearly not familiar with the facts of what has been going inside this building,” she wrote in an email. “The negative press this law firm is trying to create for the sake of building their own reputation, only hurts the patients and staff they claim they are trying to protect. I only wish that those individuals responsible for such reckless and selfish behavior would put those efforts to helping our facility care for our residents as so many people from the community already have, rather than trying to capitalize on this pandemic for personal gain and recognition.”

The Salisbury Center has reported 144 positive cases of COVID-19 and 10 deaths, according to the most recent figures from the NC Department of Health and Human Services.

It’s unclear whether those numbers include another resident Marjorie Galvin, 96, who died last night.

A CNA, whose name is redacted in court documents because they are afraid of retaliation from the company, stopped working at the Citadel two weeks ago. “I could not continue to work under the direction of the Citadel management. It was heartbreaking for me to make the decision that I would not return to the facility because of my love and concerns for the residents there,” they said.

Many of the residents who had tested positive were sharing bathrooms with residents that were tested and came back negative,” the CNA said, and the same thermometers were used throughout the facility.

On April 7, the CNA said, “I witnessed an event that disturbed me greatly.” Two staff employees transported a resident who had developed a high fever from his room to the quarantine hall. “He was wheeled outside of the rooms of the entire hall of residents and past the nurses’ station but he was not wearing a mask. I admonished them for this reckless behavior,” they said.

They immediately called Ardith Peacock the director of nursing, the CNA said. “She replied that she didn’t know what else to do, she had provided them in-service training.”

In the weeks leading to the CNA’s departure, they said, “the condition at the facility had become dire. Residents were ill with the virus, the staff members were sick and not reporting to work, and we had no meetings whatsoever advising us of what was occurring and how to deal with the epidemic.”

Morrow, the Accordius spokeswoman, said the Citadel has been doing “everything we can in lockstep with the CDC guidelines, the local department of health and local hospitals, and have been working around the clock to protect the safety of our residents and the staff during this unprecedented, worldwide pandemic,” Morrow said in an email. “The Citadel Salisbury had an emergency preparedness plan in place and also implemented a COVID-19 pandemic plan even before Gov. Cooper’s Emergency Declaration on March 10, 2020, and more than a month before the first confirmed case at the Citadel Salisbury on April 7, 2020.

“These plans have been reviewed daily and revised as needed with input from Department of Health and our local hospitals.  In fact, the N.C. Department of Health completed a COVID-19-Focused Infection Control inspection of the Citadel Salisbury on April 17, 2020, and found the facility to be in full compliance with the applicable regulations, including in the area of infection control.”

Another CNA, who’s name is also redacted, said they and another employee “cornered” a supervisor and asked “why on earth” Citadel was “accepting new admissions during the coronavirus outbreak.”

The CNA said they became ill the week of April 20th with chest congestion, coughing, loss of taste and smell, and diarrhea. They remain in 14-day quarantine, but others have continued working at the Citadel despite having tested positive, they said.

The CNA said that they were told by a Citadel administrative employee to take off a mask that they had put on while handling a newly admitted patient. “Earlier in the outbreak the staff was told not to wear masks because it frightened the patients.”

“My hall received two new patients and both are dead now,” they said.

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