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VDH: 13 residents at Harrisonburg long-term care facility die from COVID-19 outbreak

Credit: WHSV
Credit: WHSV(WHSV)
Published: Apr. 16, 2020 at 1:51 PM EDT
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April 22:

As of April 22, the Central Shenandoah Health District reports that 13 residents of Accordius Health Harrisonburg have died amid an outbreak of COVID-19 at the facility. That was an increase from 10 deaths that had been reported as of Monday.

The health district has been assisting with and monitoring the response at the facility since an outbreak was initially identified there more than a week ago.

In a statement issued this past weekend, Accordius Health said when the virus hit their Harrisonburg center, “it was like a freight train.” "We literally went from 1 mildly symptomatic case to 50 in 72 hours. There is still so much scientifically that is unknown about this virus and we, along with the rest of the medical and healthcare community are learning every day."

By Wednesday, the health district reported that 13 residents have died, saying their "thoughts and prayers go out to the families."

Another eight residents of the facility are hospitalized and 38 others, still at the facility, are showing symptoms.

That's out of 81 total positive cases that were identified at the facility.

That information has been provided with the permission of Accordius Health. Without a facility's agreement, no information on case totals or other coronavirus information can be released by health officials.

“Older adults and those with chronic medical conditions are at highest risk for poor outcomes related to COVID-19. Our community grieves with the families who have lost loved ones and who have loved ones who are affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The community continues to collaborate to meet the needs of all the residents of Accordius Health,” Dr. Laura Kornegay, the director of the Central Shenandoah Health District.

They say they're responding to the outbreak in the following ways:

• The Virginia Department of Health/CSHD continues to organize the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) for on-site assistance for the increased needs related to this outbreak. These volunteers include nursing assistance, pastoral care assistance and social work assistance.

• Emergency Medical Services (Harrisonburg Fire Department, Harrisonburg Rescue Squad and Rockingham County Fire & Rescue) continue coordination to meet the transportation needs for residents requiring hospitalization.

• The staff at Accordius and the clinical staff from Valley Family & Elder Care are providing compassionate care to all the residents, and they are coordinating closely with the hospital when additional care is needed.

• The community has rallied support for residents and staff, including window visits and signs of support and thanks in the parking lot.

The outbreak at Accordius Health Harrisonburg is one of nine total outbreaks in the Central Shenandoah Health District, and one of two at long-term care centers. There are also four outbreaks in congregate settings, one in an education setting, one in a correctional facility, and one in a health care facility.

One of the residents who died of COVID-19 was Alberta Barbour, known by many as Ms. Alberta. We spoke with her family about the tragic experience.

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April 20:

As of Monday, the Central Shenandoah Health District reports 10 residents of a local long-term care facility have died as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

In a press release on Monday night, the health district said five of the ten residents had been transferred from Accordius Health of Harrisonburg but had passed away at a local hospital. The agency said 28 residents at the Harrisonburg facility are ill with COVID-19 symptoms and are recieving symptomatic care that includes intravenous fluids, oxygen and medications.

The response to the outbreak has involved several partners including staff and administration at Accordius Health, clinicians with Valley Family Elder Care, Sentara Rockingham Memorial Hospital, Virginia, Department of Health/Central Shenandoah Health District, Harrisonburg City and Rockingham County Emergency Response, the NW Healthcare Coalition and members of the community.

April 18:

Accordius Health released the following statement regarding COVID-19 cases at their facility in Harrisonburg:

"Testing was performed on residents at Accordius Harrisonburg on April 14, and 81 residents tested positive for COVID-19. They are receiving treatment either at a regional hospital or onsite at the center.

Many COVID-19 positive residents are asymptomatic carriers showing no sign of being ill, while others are experiencing symptoms of the virus ranging from severe to mild.

Three Harrisonburg residents have tested negative for COVID-19. 14 residents have declined testing but are presumed positive.

It is with heavy hearts that we report the virus has claimed the lives of 2 COVID-19 positive patients.

Staff members were also tested on April 14, 2020 at the facility. Of thirty-five tested at that time, twelve staff tested positive; two additional staff members had testing elsewhere and some test results remain outstanding.

The Harrisonburg clinical and operational teams review their COVID response plan daily and initiate all necessary changes. All residents are being monitored closely.

We recognize we had to work harder to better meet your expectations for communication, and we have made that a high priority. Please forgive any delay in hearing from us.

When the virus hit our Harrisonburg center “it was like a freight train.” We literally went from 1 mildly symptomatic case to 50 in 72 hours. There is still so much scientifically that is unknown about this virus and we, along with the rest of the medical and healthcare community are learning every day.

Our hearts are breaking along with yours about how this is impacting our residents and staff. We remain your partners in your loved one’s care; our hearts are heavy; our minds are bewildered; but we are determined to proceed with focus.

We also recognize this is an incredibly stressful time for anyone with an elderly or infirm family member in a group setting; at Harrisonburg, the care of these loved ones is our primary focus.

Our most heartfelt thank you to the many community members, the local fire department, the department of health and our resident’s family members who have donated food trays, messages of support and supplies. It means so much to us to feel such kindness."

April 16:

We now know more about the full extent of a COVID-19 outbreak at a long-term care center in Harrisonburg.

Several days after initially announcing that they were responding to an outbreak, the Central Shenandoah Health District confirmed on Thursday that the outbreak is at Accordius Health, as we have previously reported based on statements by the facility's medical director.

It's one of four total outbreaks that the health district is responding to, but the only one in a long-term care center. The others are in a healthcare setting, an education setting, and a congregate setting. The locations of none of those outbreaks have yet been publicly identified by the health district or the Virginia Department of Health, and that comes down to state code, which requires facilities to agree for their information to be released to the media.

Just two days ago, the medical director of Accordius Health told us there had been at least four positive tests for coronavirus at Accordius Health Harrisonburg, but at that time, nearly 100 other people had pending tests. By Thursday evening, the results on many of those had come back, with a resulting spike in cases, according to the city of Harrisonburg.

Response by the Central Shenandoah Health District

According to a statement issued on Thursday, the Central Shenandoah Health District says they have been working with every long-term care facility throughout the region since the start of the pandemic to ensure they all have the knowledge and resources necessary to respond effectively.

"We have a history of working together to provide for the health and safety of residents and staff," the district said.

They say they're applying those efforts to the ongoing outbreak at Accordius Health Harrisonburg, where the medical director previously confirmed to WHSV that at least four patients have tested positive, with nearly 100 other tests pending as of previous updates. No further updates on case totals at the center have been provided.

The health district says their response has been coordinated with Accordius Health, the Virginia Department of Health, local first responders, and the local hospital system.

Working with UVA Health, the district says they've begun an aggressive testing campaign for residents and staff at Accordius. As the results of those tests come in, they say the data will help them plan their response more effectively to protect the health and safety of staff.

As of 5 p.m. on Thursday, the district had not provided any details on exact numbers of cases at the facility, and that's because of Virginia state code.

Why aren't there any exact numbers on the cases at Accordius?

According to Tammie Smith, the public relations coordinator for the Virginia Department of Health, it comes down to Accordius Health itself.

She told WHSV on Thursday that Accordius Health agreed to the release of their name by the department, but no additional information beyond that.

Any further information, she said, has to come directly from the facility, which has repeatedly turned down calls from WHSV and other media outlets seeking detailed information.

And that's in line with Virginia state code, which prohibits the health department from releasing information on individual facilities to the media unless the facility agrees.

Here's the section of Virginia code that applies, according to Smith:

The State Health Commissioner is required by Va. Code § 32.1-41 to preserve the anonymity of each patient and practitioner whose medical records are examined as part of a disease investigation. Disease reports submitted to VDH are confidential per § 32.1-36, and that section provides that the patient’s identity and disease state shall be confidential. VDH is not able to release disease information at the facility level to the media, because that would compromise the anonymity of the patient. In addition, per § 32.1-38, neither the name of any person reported to VDH nor the name of any person making a report shall be disclosed to the public. According to Va. Code § 32.1-3, “person” means an “individual, corporation, partnership or other legal entity.” Thus, VDH cannot release the name of a facility that made a disease report.
The city of Harrisonburg's response

Harrisonburg spokesperson Mike Parks said in an afternoon release that the city is working closely with the Virginia Department of Health and Sentara RMH to address what he called "dozens of positive cases" that have been recorded at Accordius Health.

Parks said that Harrisonburg officials are working closely with the Virginia Department of Health, which has sent assistance from the Northwest Regional Healthcare Coalition to supply PPE and medical supplies, volunteers with the Medical Reservce Corps to supplement staffing needs at the facility, and state-level guidance for local response.

He said Accordius Health has also sent extra personnel from their corporate headquarters to help manage the situation.

The city, with cooperation from the Harrisonburg Rescue Squad, has set aside two ambulances to be dedicated solely to calls at Accordius Health.

Rockingham County has also assisted with providing decontamination abilities for ambulances and back ambulance support.

“The City is ready to support the Virginia Department of Health and Sentara RMH in any way that we can during this very difficult time for our community,” Harrisonburg City Manager Eric D. Campbell said. “Our thoughts are with the residents and staff of Accordius Health as they work to combat this outbreak. As we observe what is happening here in our community, it is vital that all Harrisonburg residents and businesses take this virus seriously and adhere to all the recommendations from the Virginia Department of Health.”

The city has also established a virtual Joint Information Center (JIC) to support efforts to inform Harrisonburg residents about the Accordius Health outbreak and other COVID-19 information. You can learn more about that at

, Accordius Health Harrisonburg received 22 citations in their March 2019 inspection, receiving an overall rating of 1/5 stars, classified as "much below average."

Families of patients at the facility have told WHSV that it's been extremely difficult to get into contact with their loved ones in recent days and to get exact information about the situation from management.

Surging cases in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County

Overall, as of April 16, the Virginia Department of Health reported 119 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Harrisonburg and 69 cases in Rockingham County. Those state numbers always lag a day or more behind the confirmations at a local level, however.

Sentara RMH Medical Center is not sharing the number of positive cases they have handled, though Augusta Health is sharing those numbers on their website. Sentara points people to the Virginia Department of Health for data.

April 14:

On Tuesday, Dr. Jonathan Shenk, Medical Director for Accordius Health Harrisonburg, confirmed to WHSV the nursing home is where a COVID-19 outbreak is being investigated in the city.

Dr. Shenk said the first patient was tested this past Thursday and so far, four patients have tested positive.

He said 97 people were being tested as of Tuesday afternoon and 60 patients were showing COVID-19 like symptoms.

But Dr. Shenk said that does not mean these patients have the coronavirus; they may have influenza, which does have similar symptoms.

Every staff member at the facility is also being tested and Dr. Shenk said none have tested positive so far. Dr. Shenk said no deaths have been reported at the facility and his staff is working hard to keep patients healthy.

The Central Shenandoah Health District, which includes Harrisonburg,

late last week, but has not provided any information on where in the district, which spans Rockbridge to Rockingham counties, that death was located.

They've also not released information on the locations of any of the district's four identified outbreaks. With Dr. Shenk's confirmation, we know the one identified at long-term care center is at Accordius. But there have also been outbreaks at a healthcare setting, an education setting, and a congregate setting. No details on any of those have been provided.

Dr. Shenk wanted to inform the public that, while they handle the outbreak, they are not facing any shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at the facility. But, like many clinics around the country, they are thankful for community members who have donated it.

Dr. Shenk said he believes more information will be available on Wednesday.

According to the doctor, the first patient at the facility was tested last Thursday, but it took a few days to receive results. With more and quicker testing made available through UVA Health, the facility became able to test anyone showing symptoms. They initially focused on people who were short of breath and coughing, but are now opening up testing to anyone in the facility.

WHSV reached out to the Virginia Department of Health and the Central Shenandoah Health District for more information on the outbreak on Sunday and Monday, but no information on the exact location of the outbreak or the number of cases was confirmed to us.

Health district officials had only released this past weekend that the district was working with a facility in Harrisonburg to collect COVID-19 specimens from symptomatic residents and send them to the state lab in Richmond, where they tested positive, and that staff were investigating potential sources of exposure to protect residents and staff.

However, two employees who did not want to be identified

the cases were at their workplace.

According to the most recent health inspection records in Virginia, Accordius Health Harrisonburg received 22 citations in their March 2019 inspection, receiving an overall rating of 1/5 stars, classified as "much below average."

A nursing home owned by Accordius in North Carolina is also facing an outbreak of COVID-19.

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April 13:

On Saturday, the Virginia Department of Health announced an investigation is underway for a COVID-19 outbreak at a long-term care facility in Harrisonburg.

It's one of at least 97 total outbreaks identified across the state, 53 of which has been identified in long-term care facilities.

WHSV reached out to the Virginia Department of Health and the Central Shenandoah Health District for more information on the outbreak, but no information on the exact location of the outbreak or the number of cases was confirmed to us.

Health district officials had only released that the district was working with a facility in Harrisonburg to collect COVID-19 specimens from symptomatic residents and send them to the state lab in Richmond, where they tested positive, and that staff were investigating potential sources of exposure to protect residents and staff.

However, two employees who are working at one facility in Harrisonburg did not want to be identified, but told WHSV the cases were at their workplace.

"It is for sure ours," an employee said. "Five patients have already been confirmed for it."

WHSV made the editorial decision to not mention the facility's name, however, until a statement is released, confirming the information.

The employee said since March, her workplace had been checking temperatures for everyone entering the building until someone ran a fever last week.

"I'm certain that it started from one patient," the employee said. "He always goes to the hospital, he came back with a fever."

The employee said tests were given last Wednesday, but she was unaware of the positive cases until she was done with her shift on Friday.

"After I heard that coronavirus was actually there, I decided I'm not returning to work," the employee said. "They didn't inform us that it was there, they let me work four hours of my shift before they told me it was even in the building."

Another employee from the facility claimed VDH did not start testing for COVID-19 until they were notified several patients had died in just a few days. The employee said they believe those deaths were unrelated to COVID-19 and now staff are also being tested.

This employee said she was also concerned about the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)at the facility. They said they are given just one gown to use while assisting infected residents and healthy residents.

WHSV did reach out to the facility for a statement, but we have yet to hear back.

This is a developing story that WHSV will update as more information becomes available.

Last week, Gov. Northam announced the formation of a new Virginia task force dedicated to responding to COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities. In his briefing on Monday, Dr. Laurie Forlano, the deputy commissioner for public health who's heading the task force, said a new outbreak had been identified at a long-term care center over the weekend, where the local health district had worked with them to respond to the situation.

She did not identify the location of the outbreak, but said UVA had offered testing kits to test residents in the case of that outbreak.

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