The Moore County Health Department has ordered Pinehurst Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center to halt admissions after an individual at the nursing facility tested positive for COVID-19.
Robert Wittmann, director of the health department, is also ordering all residents and employees of the center to be tested for the disease. The county is awaiting test results from a “highly suspicious case” involving a second individual at the facility, according to a letter Wittmann sent Friday to Van Bergstrom, the center’s administrator.
“It has come to my attention there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in your above referenced facility,” Wittmann wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Pilot through a public records request.
Writing in the letter, Wittmann said an outbreak of the new coronavirus in a congregate-living setting is “defined as two or more laboratory cases within two incubation periods (28 days) in the same facility.”
“However, even individual cases of COVID-19 in long-term care facility settings are a serious public health concern and should be investigated in the same manner as an outbreak,” he wrote.
The health department has not said if the infected individual is an employee or resident of the center, which is located in the 300 block of Blake Boulevard. A total of 20 confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been reported in Moore County as of Monday afternoon, with two deaths attributed to the disease.
In a news release on Sunday, the health department announced that four residents had tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. The department said one of the newly confirmed cases was tied to a local "assisted living facility," but the agency did not identify the establishment.
“The Moore County Health Department will be working closely with the facility and FirstHealth of the Carolinas to test all the facility’s residents and staff for COVID-19,” the release said.
The Pilot submitted a formal request to the health department on Monday asking for copies of any email, text or other correspondence containing the name of the facility. The request was prepared with assistance from Amanda Martin, general counsel for the North Carolina Press Association.
The request was initially rejected by Wittmann, who told The Pilot that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 prohibited him from identifying the facility. But according to the University of North Carolina’s School of Government, “both HIPAA and the state confidentiality law allow disclosure of communicable disease information that doesn’t identify individuals.”
After later consulting with Misty Leland, the county attorney, and with the state Department of Public Information, the health department provided The Pilot with a copy of Wittmann’s letter to Bergstrom.
The parking lot of Pinehurst Healthcare and Rehabilitation was virtually empty on Monday afternoon. Several people wearing face masks and medical gowns were observed near the entrance of one of the center’s buildings.
The 144-bed facility is managed by Liberty Healthcare and Rehabilitation Services, a company based in Wilmington. Bergstrom on Tuesday deferred questions about the Pinehurst center to the facility’s corporate office.
Outbreaks of the coronavirus have been reported at multiple nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the state. The Henderson County Department of Public Health on Sunday said 23 cases of COVID-19 had been linked to Cherry Springs Village, an assisted living community in Hendersonville.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 400 U.S. nursing homes have experienced outbreaks of the coronavirus.