3:00pm: Hotline with Dave Weekley

Justice says he is ‘flat mad’ after 2 erroneous death reports

Gov. Jim Justice says he’s putting a stop to false reports about coronavirus deaths.

Justice, at the start of a Friday press briefing, said twice in recent days he has been provided with reports of the deaths that turned out to be untrue.

“This just makes me flat mad. That’s all there is to it,” Justice said. “I have been reported to on two different days by very senior people, that we had a death,” Justice said.

“Two different places, two different counties. And in both situations, just to tell it like it is, we weren’t right.”

One of those instances hadn’t been made public previously.

The other happened today when the Department of Health and Human Resources initially put out a statement reporting the death of a 76-year-old resident of Sundale nursing home in Morgantown.

Coronavirus has swept through the nursing home’s fragile population this week, infecting 21 patients and eight staff members. Some of the patients are being treated at local hospitals while others are being moved to an isolation wing at the nursing home.

Importantly, none of the nursing home residents have died.

A few minutes after the DHHR announcement was distributed, Sundale issued a correction that the man remained in critical condition in a hospital. The nursing home also accepted blame.

The error started, Sundale Marketing Director Donna Tennant told WAJR Radio, because of a misinterpretation on social media. Tennant said the first report came from a staff member.

“One of our employees saw that there was someone who passed away that they believed was one of our residents, so they put it on social media.” Tennant told WAJR’s Mike Nolting. “Our staff began to respond to that and believe it was indeed a member of our resident family.”

Tennant said the nursing home contacted the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, believing the information was true.

“We did send shortly after that, a report that said we had been mistaken,”Tennant said. ”However, they did not get that second message.”

Although deaths may be expected as coronavirus spreads, Justice said receiving notification was emotionally upsetting.

“I am trying every way within me to see that we protect everyone. And every single life is a tragedy if we lose one,” he said.

“Now we all know the odds are really against us, being the high-risk state that we are, that it is almost inevitable that is going to happen. But it’s still beyond tragic.”

Justice referenced steps to assure a more accurate process.

“I am now initiating additional safeguards to make sure — surely to the Lord above — that we can get it right that someone has either passed on or not. There’s plenty of chaos out there,” he said, “but this is inexcusable in my book.”

Bill Crouch

Bill Crouch, secretary for the Department of Health and Human Resources, described additional safeguards.

Information about local cases flows first from local health departments and then to the state, which tries to verify the reports, he said.

“In this case, there was a misidentification at the local level,” he said. “The nursing home that first reported that issued a press release apologizing for that confusion and they took responsibility for that.

“However, in the future, as the governor said, we can’t tolerate those kinds of mistakes.”

Now, Crouch said, DHHR will require a second confirmation, probably from a local hospital. He acknowledged that could produce more lag in verifying information but emphasized the need for accuracy.

“We’re going to make sure those kinds of things are confirmed before we report them,” Crouch said.

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