11/12/10 — Shared needle linked to deaths

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Shared needle linked to deaths

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 12, 2010 1:46 PM

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Glenn Kornegay, left, owner and operator of GlenCare Assisted Living Center in Mount Olive, listens as wife Anne Kornegay, vice president, speaks during a news conference Thursday morning in the parking lot of the facility.

MOUNT OLIVE -- Despite word from the state that five medication technicians at GlenCare admitted they had used the same diabetic pen on several residents -- being linked to five recent deaths at the assisted living facility -- owners say that until they have names, they are denying the charges.

At a press conference Thursday at the center, Glenn Kornegay, president, read from a prepared statement, saying that the investigation had centered around one common thread, that the seven residents diagnosed with hepatitis B all had diabetes.

Surveyors from the Division of Health Services Regulations did a three-and-one-half-day investigation, Kornegay said, but were not timely in providing a report to GlenCare.

"They did not give us their findings until 16 days after their investigation ... informing us that we were in immediate jeopardy because five of five medication technicians told them during interview(s) that they had used the same pen on several residents. ... No further investigation should be needed to establish immediate jeopardy," he said. "Any reasonable person would have released that information immediately."

Repeated requests were made to determine which med techs made the admission, but DHSR refused to give that information, Kornegay said, even after med techs reportedly signed releases giving permission for the interviews to be provided.

"We strongly disagree that in this situation, confidentiality should be upheld," Kornegay said. "It is our contention that by withholding this information for 16 days has, in itself, placed the residents in jeopardy."

Anne Kornegay, vice president of the company and Kornegay's wife, has more than 30 years experience as a registered nurse. She also took issue with the state's handling of the outbreak.

"The first case (of hepatitis) was Aug. 30," she said. "We were not told until Oct. 13. During that time, we could have already vaccinated, drawn blood and done tests to determine if these people were ill."

Obviously, the outbreak "came from somewhere," she said, speculating that there is more than one method of transmission -- including other facilities from where residents had transferred, treatment received by other providers or the exchange of bodily fluids.

After all, she noted, GlenCare is an assisted living facility, which differs from a nursing home. She explained the difference as being the freedom the residents have.

"These people are like you and me -- they have sex, they can go down to the store where oftentimes drug dealers are or will get alcohol, even though alcohol is against our rules," she said. "Oftentimes, we don't know they have done it until they have done it. ...

"They can sign themselves out and go wherever they want to go. There are no nurses here. That makes a difference."

Since they have been unable to determine which med techs might have admitted to any infractions, the couple have been paying out of their own pockets to have a registered nurse oversee staff working closely with patients.

"In lieu of terminating all of the med techs, we have provided this RN supervision daily," Kornegay explained. "Licensure rules do not require any licensed nursing staff in adult care homes nor do they pay for any licensed nursing staff in an adult care home and this is an extreme hardship for this facility. Despite the hardship, we continue to provide three to four RNs daily to assure that the health and welfare of the residents are met."

Mrs. Kornegay defended staff at the facility, calling them "consummate professionals" who did nothing deliberately or improperly.

"We do not believe that these loving, caring people shared the same pens on a patient," she said. "I believe them when they tell me that they have not done that."

This is not the first outbreak of its type, Mrs. Kornegay said, nor is GlenCare the first location. And nobody there would wittingly harm a patient.

Mrs. Kornegay said she is "devastated" and "heartbroken" about the loss of their beloved residents.

"These people are frail and infirmed and have diagnoses that make them more susceptible," she said. "I'm in disbelief that DHSR came in this building and five members said we used the same pen and walked out of this building and didn't tell us. That put our patients in immediately jeopardy. We can't fix what we don't know."

While the state's preliminary investigation is expected to be released soon, GlenCare is conducting its own internal investigation into the matter.

"Whatever this is, once it's determined, we'll fix it," Mrs. Kornegay said.

That includes taking action against anyone who might have violated standards and procedures at the site, she said.

"After I got through choking them, I would prosecute them because they know what to do," she said. "We have never threatened staff with their jobs. We have nine med techs in this building and we have never been cited for improper techniques."

Glenda Helton, a med tech who has worked at GlenCare for 23 years, said it's been challenging to maintain morale in recent months.

"It's sad, it's a shame," she said. "I just back what Mr. and Mrs. Kornegay said. I didn't hear anything that I didn't agree with.

"We have a job. We're trained. If we don't know it, we'll be trained. ... We're just trying to stick together, stay positive."

Carol McDuffie, a med tech with 14 years experience, said it has been a "nerve-wracking" time.

"But I come to work with a positive attitude because I love doing this work," she said. "I'm here every day, I don't call in (and not show up). I just love the residents and try to reassure them."

Jeanette Deutschmann, operations manager, came on board three weeks ago but had worked at the Warsaw facility before that.

"I knew what was going on here and I have a lot of compassion for the elderly," she said. "I knew this wasn't going to be easy and it was going to be a stressful situation, but I honestly believe in my heart (the allegations) are not true.

"Over the past three weeks I have been on the floor, watching, teaching, training, and never once have I seen one of the techs ever do what they're saying they did (wrong)."

Ms. Deutschmann, who is also a registered nurse, said she stands behind her employers.

"I plan on sticking this out to the end," she said. "I'm not scared. I'm not running from anything. I really think that the employer that I'm working for has been darn good, has been very compassionate.

"I agree with the other nurses, saying that this hepatitis could have been caused at the facility without our knowledge. The things that are going on in the facility, these residents are allowed to come and go, they're all roommates, they all have their cliques that are together. ... We don't allow alcohol or drugs, we don't want that here but they're people like we are and this is their home."