Rowan Public Health Director concerned after five new deaths reported in one day at veteran’s facility

Concern is that deaths are not being reported within 24 hours

Five deaths reported at N.C. veterans home

SALISBURY, N.C. (WBTV) - The Public Health Director is asking questions about the reporting practices of a local veteran’s facility after the facility reported five new COVID-19 related deaths on Tuesday.

For nearly two weeks the Rowan County Health Department was reporting a total of 27 COVID-19 deaths in Rowan County, with 19 deaths at the Citadel, 1 in the community, and 7 deaths at the North Carolina State Veterans Home on the campus of the Veterans Administration Medical Center.

The facility is operated by PruittHealth.

When the COVID-19 numbers were released on Tuesday afternoon, the number of deaths had jumped to 32, with an additional 5 reported at the Veteran’s Home.

“Notification is not being done as timely as it should," said Nina Oliver, Director of the Rowan County Health Department. "We’re making sure in sending reminders that notification is required within 24 hours.”

WBTV first asked about additional deaths at the Veteran’s Home on Tuesday morning, following information received from an outside source. Oliver said that at that time she had not been made aware of any additional deaths.

“At this time I don’t know if that’s correct," Oliver said on Tuesday. "We only know about deaths if the nursing home or long-term care facility reports a death to us.”

“When a death occurs, by law, the nursing home has to report it within 24 hours," Oliver added. "Does that always occur? No. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. The local Health Department does not know about a death until the agency/facility reports it to us.”

At some point on Tuesday the Veteran’s Home apparently did notify the Health Department about the five deaths, but did not say when the deaths actually occurred.

“That is when we got the notification of death, was yesterday," Oliver said on Wednesday, "so we got all five yesterday.”

WBTV has reached out to representatives from PruittHealth and the NC Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

“Please note that our Veterans are our top priority. The NC Department of Military and Veterans Affairs has contracted with Pruitt Health to operate the four State Veterans Nursing Homes across the state. We are reaching out to PruittHealth and the NC Department of Health and Human Services. We will get back to you as soon as possible regarding your concern,” wrote Angella Dunston of the NC Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

On Wednesday afternoon the Communications Department at PruittHealth provided this response: “From the start, we have maintained regular communication with the local health department. To date, no issues specific to the cadence of COVID-19 reporting have been expressed. We stand by our commitment to transparency during this pandemic and continue to work with public health officials.”

PruittHealth did not answer questions about when the five deaths occurred at the Salisbury facility.

Copyright 2020 WBTV. All rights reserved.