Coronavirus outbreaks in 2 Asheville nursing homes, county says

Coronavirus outbreaks in 2 Asheville nursing homes, county says

ASHEVILLE – Two city nursing homes licensed for 263 residents are experiencing coronavirus outbreaks, Buncombe County officials have said. 

The state categorizes an outbreak as two or more cases happening within 28 days of each other. The two facilities are Aston Park Health Care Center at 380 Brevard Road in West Asheville and Deerfield Retirement Episcopal Skilled Nursing Home at 1617 Hendersonville Road in South Asheville.

It’s not clear how many cases each facility has or whether they are among staff, residents or both. State data available online that includes those details won’t be updated until May 15. Neither facility returned calls seeking comment.

Facilities have up to 263 residents

Aston Park has 120 skilled nursing facility care beds and 19 adult care beds for people needing a lower level of care, according to NC Department of Health and Human Services records. Deerfield has 62 skilled nursing beds and 62 adult care beds.

The noon May 13 county announcement about the outbreaks comes a day after county Board of Commissioners Chairman Brownie Newman alerted the Citizen Times to at least one outbreak. 

One third of all COVID-19 deaths in the US have been of residents or workers in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, according to a May 11 New York Times report. Such facilities in North Carolina account for 57% of the state’s deaths, the story said.

That concentration of deaths in long-term care homes is likely even larger in Western North Carolina. Henderson County, which neighbors Buncombe, has been the center of such outbreaks.

Congregate living facilities in Henderson account for 186 cases of COVID-19 and 31 deaths, according to the state health department.

Concerns raised earlier

Newman and fellow Democratic commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara raised concerns as early as May 7 with County Manager Avril Pinder about COVID-19 outbreaks in congregate living facilities, according to emails provided by Newman. 

The chairman said he was told the state’s guidance has been not to test staff unless they have symptoms. But he said Buncombe should develop its own guidance.

“Frankly the staff should not only be tested, but should be tested with some regularity,” he said.

After that the county planned two days of community testing May 12 and 14. Thursday’s testing is from 1-4 p.m at Buncombe County Schools Central Office, 175 Bingham Road in Asheville. Testing is recommended for people who believe they may have COVID-19. There is no out-of-pocket costs but those with private insurance should bring their coverage information.

There is also testing with private providers MAHEC, Urgent Care and Range Urgent Care.

Changes in testing?

On May 13, Newman and Beach-Ferrara said county staff was working on a plan for expanded testing in nursing homes and other senior care centers.

Beach-Ferrara said her “thoughts and prayers” were with those affected.

“We need to move forward with expanding testing to asymptomatic people in high-risk settings such as nursing homes as soon as we can – that requires having the testing supplies, PPE supplies and testing protocols in place,” she said.

She said the new cases highlight the urgency of the situation, saying, “We are still in a crisis and need to be focused on prevention, testing and tracing.”

County public health spokeswoman Stacey Wood said county employees were working with facility administrators to make sure they have those resources, including guidance on whom to test.

Other commissioners on the seven-member board did not respond to requests for comment.

The Democratic-majority board voted 4-3 along party lines April 16 to prioritize a general expansion of testing.

Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He’s written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.

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