Signature confirms 5 COVID-19 deaths

Signature HealthCARE of Roanoke Rapids.

ROANOKE RAPIDS — On Thursday, Signature HealthCARE Company confirmed five COVID-19 positive residents died at the Roanoke Rapids facility.

“It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that Signature HealthCARE of Roanoke Rapids confirms the loss of five of its beloved residents who tested positive in that total cumulative number,” Media/PR/Communications Manager Ann Bowdan Wilder of A Signature HealthCARE Company said. “The majority of those beloved residents passed at partnering hospitals. However, regardless of where they passed, every one of our residents is like family and the loss is nothing short of devastating for us all.”

According to an article in The Daily Herald on July 27 at bit.ly/3alkvRq, the Signature facility reported 28 positive COVID-19 cases.

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reports ongoing outbreaks in congregate living settings every Tuesday and Friday by 4 p.m. The latest report on Tuesday showed Signature HealthCARE of Roanoke Rapids with 13 staff members COVID-19 positive, 31 residents positive and one resident death.

As of Thursday, Wilder said the Signature HealthCARE of Roanoke Rapids has a cumulative total of 44 positive COVID-19 residents and 29 positive staff, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Out of the total number of positive cases, 15 residents and 16 staff have recovered, 22 current positive residents are being treated in-house in a separate COVID-19 unit and two others at partnering hospitals.

“The rising numbers of Coronavirus cases in Halifax County is a daunting reminder of the virulence of COVID-19 and our world’s daily battle with this pandemic,” she said. “Signature HealthCARE of Roanoke Rapids also understands as the numbers rise throughout the county and fears grow in our community, the probability for misinformation and rumor is high. Therefore, we would like to clarify our current numbers, which are not reflected in the current local health department numbers, and relay other important information.”

Wilder added that staff who experienced symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19 do not return to work until they have been medically cleared.

The Daily Herald reached out to the Halifax County Health Department with inquiries.

Frances Vick, director of nursing at HCHD, responded and said it is a requirement for the Signature facility to report COVID-19 cases and deaths to the health department in the county of residence.

Vick supplied a document from the NCDHHS Division of Health Service Regulation that highlighted a new section in Session Law 2011-99 House Bill 474 titled 131D-4.4B: “Guidelines for reporting suspected communicable disease outbreaks,” and G.S. 131D-4.4B requires NCDHHS to develop guidelines for the manner in which adult care homes are to report a suspected communicable disease outbreak to the local health department.

In regard to the possible inaccuracies of COVID-19 cases and deaths reported by several organizations such as Signature, she said there may be more cases than what may show up due to the fact that cases are entered into the North Carolina Electronic Disease Surveillance System that do not automatically feed in.

“Not conducting tests and positive lab results are automatically fed into NCEDDS or are manually fed in once received which may skew the numbers of actual positive cases,” Vick said.

Wilder explained how Signature HealthCARE has a specialized COVID unit inside the Roanoke Rapids facility that is one of almost four dozen Signature units created in the company’s facilities nationwide with acknowledgment of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The unit is isolated with barrier systems in place that separates itself from the rest of the facility with separate supplies, food, dedicated entrance, and staff who work inside the COVID unit, she said. Personal protective equipment is provided and worn in accordance with CDC guidelines and protocols that are monitored by an infectious disease physician and nurse, who provide guidance for operations, Wilder said.

“If at any time a physician determines a resident needs a higher level of care, they will be treated at one of our partnering hospitals,” she said. “Furthermore, when our residents recover from COVID-19, they are removed from the COVID unit and returned to the main floor. But only once recovered and medically cleared. Roanoke Rapids continues to work diligently to fight the spread of COVID-19, even in times of increased cases within the community, with aggressive testing. Our fight against the transmission of this virus started early on in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wilder went on to explain the Signature company conducted a facility-wide testing at select facilities for all residents and staff when a COVID-19 positive case surfaced.

“This strategy came highly recommended by Signature’s infectious disease physicians as a way to quickly identify the scope of the virus in a facility, knowing that positive persons can be asymptomatic, and then work swiftly to contain any further spread,” she said. “Signature’s approach was applauded by the CDC before being mandated by many states. We want to assure our residents, families, and staff that we continue to take every precaution possible and follow the strict guidelines of the CDC and other controlling government agencies.”

When asked about the COVID-19 pay for additional workers on the main floor, Wilder responded.

“Those staff who work directly with our positive COVID residents do receive hazard pay,” she said.

An anonymous tip told The Daily Herald about an unknown state department arriving for the third time within one week to the Signature facility.

Vick said they were not aware of any state department officials showing up three times to the facility.

“The state is trying to stay on top of outbreaks in these facilities,” she said. “I would guess that they are referring to DHHS when they say department, but not sure.”

When asked about the visits during the weekly period, Wilder said the N.C. Division of Health Service Regulation had been to the Signature facility to conduct three separate Infection Control surveys.

“Signature HealthCARE of Roanoke Rapids received zero deficiencies or a 100% Deficiency-Free Survey in all three cases,” she said. “The survey results show all services provided at Roanoke Rapids facility meet or exceed all state and federal standards and the overall environment of the facility is at the highest level required and, in some cases, exceeds those requirements. The state surveys include interviews, observation, and the review of records and policies.”

A look at the NCDHSR website showed a specialty type inspection to conduct an unannounced COVID-19 Focused Survey with two entries on June 10, which displayed “No Deficiencies Cited.”

View the NCDHSR public report page at bit.ly/3fYH0gr.

However, Media Relations Manager Amy Adams Ellis of NCDHHS Office of Communications confirmed that staff were on-site Thursday at the Roanoke Rapids facility, but said no comment could be given due to ongoing inspections.

The Daily Herald followed up with further questions on Friday about the two entries on June 10 and asked how was it that a third result for the third case showed zero deficiencies if an inspection was ongoing.

“Our statement concerning Infection Control surveys stands,” Wilder responded.

On Thursday, the NCDHHS website reported Halifax County with 746 positive COVID-19 cases and seven deaths. The Northampton County Health Department reported on Thursday 342 positive COVID-19 cases, 17 deaths.