THOMASVILLE, N.C. (WGHP) — Pine Ridge Health and Rehabilitation Center has been relatively quiet since investigators said two people died and two people were in critical condition while the facility was understaffed during the Jan. 16 snowstorm.

In a statement released Monday, the center is offering a closer look at its side of the story.

According to a news release from Thomasville police, officers responded on Jan. 16 to Pine Ridge Health and Rehabilitation Center after receiving calls that staff could not be contacted by telephone and had not been seen by some residents of the facility. When officers arrived, two patients were dead and two were in critical condition. There were three workers looking after 98 patients.

On Monday, the center said that it is “concerned about how the deaths of two residents have been mischaracterized. It has been implied that the deaths of these residents were discovered when EMS crews arrived at the facility on Sunday evening. That is not accurate.”

An earlier news release from Thomasville police aligns with the statement, explaining that the center had notified their families earlier in the day.

“Our staff began making arrangements with local funeral homes well before EMS arrived at the facility,” the nursing home said. “Hazardous road conditions prevented the funeral home from immediately traveling to Pine Ridge.”

Pine Ridge Health and Rehabilitation Center said that the deaths were unrelated to the staffing issues caused by the winter storm and that families were notified by staff at the time of death.

Police said they have requested autopsies for the two patients who died and are waiting for the results.

The statement does not address the two patients found in critical condition. Both were taken to hospitals after police arrived.

Here is the full statement from Pine Ridge Health and Rehabilitation Center:

We are grateful for the trust that family members place in us to care for their loved ones. It’s a responsibility we take seriously. The disruptions to our staffing last Sunday were created by the combination of hazardous road conditions and the rampant spread of Covid across North Carolina (34% positivity rate). We are cooperating fully with state officials investigating this situation and taking meaningful steps to ensure that it does not happen again. All of our residents are currently receiving the medical care and support they need.

We are concerned about how the deaths of two residents have been mischaracterized. It has been implied that the deaths of these residents were discovered when EMS crews arrived at the facility on Sunday evening. That is not accurate. Here are the facts:

Two residents at Pine Ridge passed away on Sunday. Our medical director has indicated the deaths were medically unrelated to any staffing issues caused by the winter storm. 

The families were notified by our staff at the time of death.

Our staff began making arrangements with local funeral homes well before EMS arrived at the facility. Hazardous road conditions prevented the funeral home from immediately traveling to Pine Ridge.

Additional Background Information

There is a national staffing crisis facing nursing homes. Here are a few recent articles that highlight the challenges currently facing nursing homes:

The Guardian: Rising Covid cases in US nursing homes prompts hospital warnings (Jan. 24, 2022)

“The rapid rise in infections compounds existing worker shortages with 234000 caregivers having exited the industry during the pandemic so far – a 15% reduction in the workforce in only two years.”

NPR: The nursing home staffing crisis right now is like nothing we’ve seen before (Jan. 20, 2022)

“But unlike the early waves of the pandemic, it’s not the deaths among residents that have nursing homes most concerned. It’s staff outages due to infection that is worsening the historic worker shortage that facilities were already grappling with.”

Prior to this statement, Pine Ridge Health and Rehabilitation Center had sent out “courtesy” calls on Jan. 17 to the families of residents, saying that some staff members were unable to come in due to the weather and that Davidson County Emergency Management “assisted” in providing care. The call was recorded by one of the individuals who received the voicemail.

“This is a courtesy call from Pine Ridge. We just wanted to make sure that you were aware that during the night shift on … January 16th, we had scheduled a full staff, but due to inclement weather, some of the folks were not able to come in. As a result, Davidson County Emergency Management assisted us with staff during those shifts to ensure provision of care. Today’s staff has been able to get to work in ensuring the residents’ needs are met continually.”

The center has been the focus of an investigation after Thomasville police found two residents deceased and two others in critical conditions during the staffing shortage on Jan. 16.

Police said they found one licensed practical nurse and two certified nursing assistants caring for 98 patients during the weekend snowstorm.  

At the request of the Davidson County District Attorney, NCDHHS workers were called to the scene, along with North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation workers, to assists with the situation.  

State House Representative Larry Potts, who represents District 81, told FOX8 that the on-site portion of the investigations wrapped up Friday afternoon and that NCDHHS will be presenting their findings to a Joint House Oversite Committee over the next few weeks.

He could not comment on any charges that may or may not come. However, when asked about what could happen next he said, “I believe we’re to the point where they will be held accountable. That’s an understatement.”

Accountability was also the message behind City Council Member Wendy Sellers statement to FOX8 on Monday.

“I will say that my heart and prayers go out to the residents and families affected by this negligence. No one should have to experience a situation like this,” Sellers said. “Families place their loved ones in these care facilities expecting their family members to be cared for. This is unacceptable and I am sure the investigation that is underway by the city, county and state will ensure this never happens again.”