State officials pushed back against questions over whether an initial coronavirus outbreak at a Princeton nursing home prompted enough response.
“With regard to Princeton, in regard to my knowledge, we did everything we were supposed to do,” Gov. Jim Justice said during a coronavirus response briefing today.
There are more than 30 active cases and at least two deaths at Princeton Health Care Center, where there are 88 residents.
The situation drew criticism when administrators at the nursing home indicated in updates posted on the facility’s website that they had asked for mass testing of residents and staff early this month, but were denied.
“We were denied the testing and were told, ‘At this time our outbreak guideline does not recommend to do the repeat testing of staff and residents and the state lab would not be able to handle those specimens,'” the nursing home stated.
While responding to the current outbreak with National Guard personnel and repeated rounds of tests, officials also have now found themselves going back over what steps led to this point.
Locally, conflict has resulted in the shakeup of Mercer County health officials.
Mercer health department administrator Susan Kadar turned in a retirement letter, and health officer Kathleen Wides also resigned. In reaction, health board chairman Randy Stevens also resigned.
Wides, when asked about response to the nursing home outbreak on Thursday, the day before she resigned, pointed to the state.
“The local health department, we follow what the state tells us to do. We’re a small health department,” Wides said in a telephone interview.
“We would not have refused to help the mass testing. We don’t have resources to do that kind of mass testing. At that point, an outbreak was defined as two people. They had one person.”
Princeton Health Care Center’s posts described asking for help with mass testing “on and before July 7th” after an employee tested positive.
“I think the administrator wants to make sure she and the facility did everything possible to protect their residents and their staff,” Bill Crouch, the state secretary for Health and Human Resources, said today.
Crouch went over a more detailed timeline today during the coronavirus response briefing with the governor.
Crouch acknowledged individual covid cases at the nursing home over the past month, but indicated all were treated and resolved — until a more recent case blossomed into an outbreak.
“You can consider it two different outbreaks,” he said.
That happened on July 17 when a patient who was transferred to the hospital developed symptoms.
On that day, he said, a full round of testing was ordered for residents and staff. Since then, two more rounds of testing have occurred.
“As the governor says ‘Run to the fire;’ we did run to the fire,” Crouch said.
“In this case, everything was done right.”
The situation at the nursing home drew concern and criticism, particularly on social media. It also drew critical comments by Ben Salango, the Democratic candidate for governor against Justice.
“We learned that he didn’t (run to the fire),” Salango said during a separate news conference today. “The fire had been going on for quite some time.”
Crouch took exception to the criticism.
“What I’m not OK with is bringing politics into the middle of a pandemic. It’s wrong. It’s unconscionable,” he said.
Crouch said of Justice, “I know of no other governor that has done more to protect the elderly population.”
Today’s update from the Princeton Health Center described recent close cooperation with state officials.
“Bill Crouch with WVDHHR and I have been in contact over the last two days,” wrote administrator Stefanie Compton.
“He has asked that our testing at the lab be given priority so that our team receives that information as quickly as possible. The faster we have test results the faster our team can respond.”
The West Virginia Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, put out a statement praising Crouch and the staff at Princeton Health Center.
“We echo the sentiments shared by Secretary Crouch today that the staff at Princeton Health Care Center have gone above and beyond the call of duty to protect the residents in their care,” stated Marty Wright, director of the association.
Justice said officials need continued vigilance about possible outbreaks among vulnerable populations.
“If we have one person testing positive at a nursing home, we need to be running to the fire. It’s as simple as that,” he said.
“If we’ve got one person, we need to go.”