Woman says protocol at state hospital led to nurse's death

Sheila Nelson, 59, formerly of Oak Hill, died of Covid-19 on Oct. 5, her daughter Christina Acord of Beckley reported. Acord said hospital procedures placed nurses at risk of exposure to the virus. (submitted photo)

The daughter of a nurse who died of Covid-19 while working at Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital in Huntington has charged that the hospital did not follow proper protocol to protect nursing staff and patients from the disease.

And now, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) Director of Communications Allison Adler confirmed Wednesday that there is an outbreak at the facility, which is a state-operated psychiatric hospital, with 35 staff members and 24 patients testing positive for the virus.

Nurse Sheila Nelson, 59, of Huntington, formerly of Oak Hill, died Oct. 5 at St. Mary's Hospital in Huntington of the highly infectious disease after spending days on a ventilator and being isolated from family, her daughter Christina Acord, 38, of Beckley said.

Nelson's live-in boyfriend, 60-year-old Floyd Wesley White, also died of a Covid-19 infection, according to Acord. 

Acord said her mother contracted the virus at Mildred Mitchell-Bateman from a co-worker who had gotten the disease while traveling to an out-of-state beach and that protocol at the hospital has led to more nurses contracting the virus.

"I'm cleaning out her house, and she had so many masks and gloves that she wore to work to protect herself," said Acord. "My mom was the charge nurse. She designated assignments.

"(Another nurse) had told her that her son was sick, and, instead, she went to the beach.

"When she came back, my mom asked how her son was, and she kind of looked shocked and said, 'Oh, he's OK,'" Acord charged. "She's the one who was positive and gave it to my mother."

Acord said other employees and patients have also been exposed to the virus as a result of the practices at Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital.

"The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has guidance of 14 days of quarantine," said Acord. "(The hospital) has cut it down for the employees to 10 days' quarantine.

"If they're asymptomatic and not positive, they're allowed to work. They do not have to have a negative test to return to work, if they've been off for 10 days," she claimed. "That's why it's spreading rampantly."

Acord said Mildred Mitchell-Bateman supervisors permit nurses who work on floors with Covid-positive patients to work on other floors in the hospital, too.

"(The practice) is exposing the whole hospital," Acord alleged. "So they're not quarantining the area, and they're exposing it to other workers.

"They really need stricter policies."

In response to Acord's report, Adler said that a single source of the outbreak has not been determined.

"Even through careful contact tracing, we cannot definitively determine the source of the exposure," she said. "The state's psychiatric hospitals follow the testing protocols of, if there is one positive test detected, testing is conducted.

"Every patient is tested upon admission and also prior to discharge."

Because of the recent outbreak, she added, testing is being increased to once per week.

Gov. Jim Justice has asked DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch, state Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad and state Adjutant General Jim Hoyer to all personally visit the hospital and report back to him.

Adler said that the hospital staff has taken "every precautionary measure suggested and required since March of 2020."

She reported that all staff are screened via a questionnaire and a temperature check when arriving daily at the hospital and that the screening is required before any staff is granted access to any building on the campus.

"Staff working on a Covid-19 floor or an observation unit are provided full PPE (personal protective equipment) and have been instructed on the proper donning and doffing of such," said Adler. "Other staff utilize PPE as well."

Acord said that Nelson, a former Raleigh General Hospital nurse, had a huge heart and that she had cared about her patients and her colleagues at Mildred Mitchell-Bateman. She stated that she is considering making a report to the CDC for what she believes are violations that resulted in a number of staff members being exposed to the virus.

"(She would want) better handling of the policies and the co-workers," said Acord. "They're supposed to be taking care of people.

"They can't do that if it is spread through them, and there's no one to take care of the patients. What are they going to do when all of the nurses are sick?

"She'd just want their safety."

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