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Family members: Conditions have not improved at The Citadel

Updated: Oct. 5, 2020 at 3:41 PM EDT
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SALISBURY, N.C. (WBTV) - Family members of residents of the nursing home that has been the site of the largest COVID-19 outbreak in North Carolina are making new claims that their loved ones are not getting proper care.

“He tells me that certain ones are just very mean, you know…to him,” said Pat Cohen, who has a brother at The Citadel. "I’m thinking that they don’t have enough help there so the people are displacing their anger; they’re putting it on the residents.”

Cohen is well-known in the area as a singer who goes by the name “Mother Blues.” In recent months she has performed concerts outside for residents of the Citadel and Compass Health.

The Citadel in Salisbury has been the location of two outbreaks, the worst involving 168 cases among staff and residents, and 21 deaths.

The new affidavits were just filed on Monday in court in Rowan County. The allegations come from family members and others. Some allege poor treatment of residents and not providing medications at the proper time, but others deal with what they say was the failure to properly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of communication with family members.

“I would say the pandemic is what through it into stark emphasis," said John Hughes, an attorney with the firm of Wallace & Graham representing family members. “Normally our firm does not go to the media with cases we’re doing, we prefer to try the case in the courtroom, but this case is different, it’s not just a court case, it’s an ongoing public issue.”

One allegation comes from someone who was working as a hair dresser at The Citadel. The allegation is that she wasn’t told about restrictions on visitation and was allowed to come and go during March. She alleges that no one coming to the beauty shop was wearing a mask, and that she was never told about a possible COVID-19 outbreak prior to March 31. She alleges that the facility put her and her family at risk.

In another affidavit, a resident’s family member said she only became aware of the outbreak through news reports, and couldn’t find out if her mother had been tested. The woman removed her mother from The Citadel and says three days later, the mother tested positive for COVID-19. Another woman alleges a lack of communication and a hard time getting information about her mother. She says staff gave conflicting updates on her mother’s condition, and that on April 15 as she was preparing to do a video call with her mom, the doctor suddenly told her that her mother was dead from COVID-19.

One affidavit from just over a week ago says that one resident walked into the room of another resident and punched her in the face.

“Months after the families started complaining, the facility is still not properly staffed," Hughes added.

WBTV obtained a letter written by Sheri Stoltzfuz, the administrator in The Citadel, that was sent to residents and their families on Friday. In the letter, Stoltzfuz says:

Prior to February, this center experienced multiple years of poor regulatory compliance and was closely monitored by State Agencies and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Since February, this team has navigated the existing challenges as well as immediate onset of the COVID-19 pandemic with the support of state and local health departments as well as our regulatory agencies. We view these agencies as partners who share our mission to provide clinical excellence to those we serve. Although this team has only had the privilege to provide care for our residents these last eight (8) months, the historical regulatory compliance compounds in the decision making of our regulators today.

I was recently notified that our center has been selected for the “Special Focus Facility (SFF) Program” based on poor compliance history for the past three years. This means the Citadel Salisbury will be subject to at least one (1) standard survey every six (6) months. The purpose of this program is to increase regulatory oversite until substantial compliance is achieved by two (2) consecutive surveys with little to no deficiencies.

I believe our team is well equipped with some of the sharpest, most knowledgeable professionals in the industry and our commitment remains strong to provide a safe and healthy environment for staff and residents alike.

Stoltzfuz also provided an update on the COVID-19 status in The Citadel:

This week our facility received results of our second consecutive round of negative tests for staff and residents. I am highly encouraged by this success of containing the few cases that recently reappeared and again have a COVID-19 free community.

Currently, The Citadel is still listed on the Rowan County Health Department COVID-19 page as being the site of an outbreak that involves four staff members and two residents.

A “strike team” from the Centers For Disease Control visited The Citadel in early September. The team consisted of representatives from the Centers For Disease Control, the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services, and local health officials.

The Public Health Director for Rowan County described the purpose of the CDC strike team visit.

“We’re going to be looking at several aspects of what occurred and didn’t occur in their facility,” said Nina Oliver.

The Chief Operating Officer of the company that owns The Citadel said afterwards, the visit was ‘a win.’

“No smoking gun, no smoking gun, I think they found everything to be in place,” said Accordius Health COO Kim Morrow. “The staff here really care. They have embraced the tents of infection control with compassion with the same care and friendship that they always have, I don’t think anyone here needs to worry about not having supplies, not having resources.”

Many family members dispute that claim, saying the staffing shortage is affecting patient care.

“Treat them like you would want someone to treat you," Cohen added. "What if it was you and it could be, you never know, would you want someone to treat you like that?”

Stoltzfus and Morrow did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

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