The administrator of a Mercer County long-term care facility contradicted Gov. Jim Justice’s claim that his office “ran everybody straight to the fire” to assist when an outbreak of COVID-19 occurred there earlier this month.
Stefanie Compton, director of the Princeton Health Care Center, posted the statement to the center’s Facebook page Wednesday evening, about six hours after Justice said the state previously helped the center complete testing.
Compton said state and local health officials weren’t able to help the center when administrators asked for assistance, contrasting a comment Justice made earlier in the day during his regular COVID-19 briefing.
In her Facebook post, Compton said facility administrators requested assistance and mass testing from local state and health officials on and before July 7, after learning that an employee at the center had tested positive for the virus.
“We were denied such testing per local and state health officials,” she said. “We were also told in writing, by a regional epidemiologist, ‘At this time our lab 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.’”
When center officials called other labs to secure mass testing in early July, they found labs in West Virginia and neighboring areas were backlogged and didn’t have the supplies the center needed, Compton said.
During his COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, Justice said, “When we were first notified, we ran everybody straight to the fire. We tested everybody there. Now we are going back and testing.”
At the time of the governor’s news conference, there were more than 40 active cases at the center. During that briefing, state Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said the outbreak “came in from Myrtle Beach.”
Compton said in her post that was the first time she had heard information regarding Myrtle Beach.
“We understand per a media release that it has been determined that our Covid outbreak is related to travel to the Myrtle Beach area,” she wrote. “That information has not been given to PHCC by any health officials.”
Allison Adler, director of communications for the DHHR, wrote in a statement Thursday department officials were “informed that a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 after exposure to someone outside of the facility who had traveled to Myrtle Beach,” but did not elaborate on who provided the information to DHHR or how that communication got lost on its way to the center.
As of Thursday, center staff were conducting facility-wide testing, and Compton was not available for comment. Cassie Meade, marketing and admissions liaison for the center, said the center’s staff was focused on administering mass COVID-19 testing, which should be completed by Friday. She referred media to the Facebook post and a statement posted on the center’s website.
Adler said staff with the DHHR’s Center for Threat Preparedness Health Command reached out to the center amid an outbreak there on June 30. At that time, she said the nursing home told state officials they had swab kits available for the testing, and that LabCorp would be doing the testing of the samples.
Adler said on July 7, when administrators requested testing assistance, the center didn’t meet the definition of having an outbreak as constituted by public health officials, which would have automatically initiated testing at that facility.
Between June 30 and July 16, the definition of what constitutes an outbreak in a long-term care facility, like the one in Princeton, changed among Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Adler said. It previously took multiple cases in a long-term health care center to constitute an outbreak; the new definition requires only one staff member or resident in a facility test positive.
The new policy took effect July 16, Adler said.
“On July 17, 2020, Princeton Health Care Center alerted DHHR’s Health Command of 2 residents testing positive for COVID-19 and requested testing support,” Adler wrote. “That same day, DHHR Health Command coordinated the 2nd round of facility-wide testing. The 3rd round of facility-wide testing was coordinated and completed on July 23, 2020. The 4th round of testing was completed on July 28, 2020.”
Crouch has been in contact with the administrator of the Princeton center and “has offered any further assistance they may need,” Adler said.