Barbara Ann Stewart died on May 7 at the age of 57 at a hospital in Danville, Virginia.
Five weeks ago, she was coming home from her job as a nurse at the Caswell Correction Center and complained of feeling unwell.
Her husband, Shisa, brought her in for COVID-19 testing. The test was positive.
It was April 2nd. For the first week or so, Shisa Stewart said, she just had a terrible cold. He thought her condition would improve.
But the situation did not improve. She missed work for over a week. The situation worsened, and Shisa Stewart called for an ambulance to take his wife to the hospital.
An internal email sent by North Carolina prison director Todd Issy to prison leaders late in the afternoon of Stewart’s death did not say Stewart was infected.
“I’m very sad during this COVID-19 crisis … I’m pleased to announce that Nurse Barbara Stewart at the Caswell Orthodontic Center has been lost,” wrote Issy.
“Keep your thoughts and prayers alive as the Warden (Doris) Daye and Caswell families weather this ridiculously difficult time.”
On May 8, the day after Stewart’s death, the County Department of Health offered a voluntary drive-through test on prison staff and subsequent Monday, May 11.
A week later, prison officials began offering limited runs of free tests to staff at off-state locations throughout the state.
However, Jennifer Eastwood, director of the Caswell County Health Department, said he had offered to conduct an on-site inspection for prison staff dating back to mid-April. Within a week of saying she made her first offer, the prison approved the test — but instead of the mass test proposed at the facility, it approved the test off-site.
Even now, some prison employees argue that it is difficult to get tested. A report by a network of journalists working throughout the state found it true. On the other hand, Stewart’s death is now the catalyst for investigation by the N.C. Department of Labor. Among other things, this department investigates whether violations of health and safety standards contributed to employee illness.
Ardis Watkins, a director of the North Carolina Workers Association, counts prison workers among its members, but was critical of how prisons handle inspections.
Mr Watkins said she and her staff were contacted by prison employees who were afraid to go to work, exposed to the virus, and brought back to their families.
She said the initial plans announced by DPS would require employees at the Pasco Tank Correctional Facility in northeastern North Carolina to drive a car 112 miles away to test.
“It’s not a serious plan,” Watkins said.
“Baby, things don’t go very well.”
Shisa Stewart said his wife sought to avoid the danger of intending to work in prison during a coronavirus pandemic.
She had high blood pressure, had problems adjusting her blood sugar, and had multiple surgeries, he said. In his view, the prison during the pandemic was a dangerous place for anyone with a medical history like his wife had.
“I said,” You don’t want to be around it, “he remembered. “But she said,” No one could get it. ” She is a nurse and “no one could get it,” she said.
Having worked at DPS for over 25 years, Barbara Stewart continued to work in a medium security prison north of Greensboro. She tried to appease her fears when she got home.
What made Shisa Stewart even more nervous was his understanding that none of the prisons had been tested before she entered the sick leave in early April.
“They didn’t test anyone in prison,” he said. “I asked her,” Are they going to test them? “She said,” no. ” “
He is more and more concerned about the lack of personal protective equipment Stewart and her colleagues also rely on bringing their own masks from home.
Shisa Stewart said he sent his wife from a home workshop to use some masks.
Eventually, in early April, Barbara Stewart returned home and stopped making a brave face for his worried husband.
“She came back and said,” Baby, it doesn’t work there. ” The couple’s nurses are sick and sick, so I wanted to go check them out, “Seasar Stewart remembered.
Barbara Stewart took the COVID-19 test on April 2nd and did not work after that. The county health director said the number of confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 confirmed in prison had begun to increase by the time she was taken to hospital on April 17.
Another nurse who worked with his wife had a positive test for the virus and a positive test for prisoners, according to Shisa Stewart.
The increasing trend of cases began to relate to Eastwood, Director of Health at Caswell County.
In an interview, Eastwood said she and prison watchdog Doris Daye were in close contact with the virus, and both share concerns about the increased number of cases at the institution.
“When we started getting positive back to our employees, we were in constant contact,” Eastwood said. “So at that time I offered to test the employee.”
Ultimately, Eastwood said he had offered to the County Department of Health to inspect all employees and inmates at the prison scene in mid-April. According to her note, it was sometime between 15 and 20 April, Eastwood said.
“My clinical staff had already tested symptomatic or exposed prison employees in our facility, but felt that extensive testing would result in more efficient use of time and resources. “Eastwood said.
Daye took a suggestion to Raleigh’s prison leader and approved the county’s testing staff, but refused to offer him an on-site test.
On a phone call Thursday morning, Daye confirmed that prison leaders approved a plan for the County Health Department to test staff on-site on April 21.
“I think they felt we could do it individually when the numbers were small enough,” Eastwood said.
However, on May 8, the day after Stewart’s death, the County Department of Health conducted a voluntary drive-through test for prison staff, and on Monday, May 11, the following day, Daye wrote in an affidavit. It was
“We just got so many, that number was very high and we were already testing so many that it felt like we needed to test as many as possible at one time,” East said. Wood said.
By that time, Daye’s affidavit stated that 16 staff members had self-reported a positive COVID-19 test. The affidavit does not mention Stewart, who died of the virus a day ago.
Prison confirmed death and refused to answer questions
A public security ministry spokesman, who oversees the state’s prison system, denied last week seven requests to make prison director Todd Issy available for interviews.
Issey asked a question on Thursday by phone with a reporter.
Prison leaders had not announced anything about the death of an employee during a pandemic until the reporters were pressed to talk about the story.
Initially, spokesman John Bull refused to even confirm that an employee at the Caswell Correction Center had died.
“In compliance with employee privacy rights, COVID-19 cannot accept requests for information regarding staff deaths,” Bull said in an email requesting an interview on the matter. “This response is not a manifestation or suggestion that the staff actually died of COVID-19.”
Later in another email, Bull said that whether a prison employee died is a protected personnel information that the law cannot provide. Bull said how Ishey was able to email dozens of senior prison leaders weeks before Stewart’s death, or how past officials publicly identified the employee killed in his job. Didn’t explain.
It took seven days after Bull first examined this story to confirm that Stewart had died. But even two weeks after her death, he still does not say she had a positive response to COVID-19.
Bull also argued that prison leaders did not stop their plans to test staff in prisons provided by the county health department. Instead, he claimed that it was the prison staff who initiated the staff test request.
“On April 20, observers contacted the County Health Department to discuss the possibility that the County would test Caswell correction staff,” Bull said. “The next day, it was agreed that the test would take place outside the county by April 21, and Commissioner Issey put the plan on April 21 when the plan was brought to him for approval. approved.”
In a late Wednesday email, Bull acknowledged that there was no actual local staff test at Caswell Correction Center until May 8.
“Issey has approved a voluntary employee test to rectify Caswell when the question was raised on April 21,” Bull said. “The first date of the actual test was May 8th.”
Unlike the original plan proposed by Eastwood, prisoners were not included in the examination.
“Not a serious plan”
Starting last Monday, prison employees were able to take the COVID-19 test. Free test is available for 2 weeks.
The plan was announced by the DPS 10 days after government leaders abolished the state treasurer Dale Forwell and the free health testing program for all prison staff from the state health plan.
The plan developed by DPS allows prison employees to go to the FastMed Emergency Medical Center for testing. The testing department is working in partnership with emergency care companies and LabCorp, a national medical lab company headquartered in Burlington, said department leaders.
“The plan will provide a direct test solution for more than 21,000 employees working statewide in prisons and juvenile facilities, or in communities that supervise juveniles and adult criminals,” DPS press release said. Says.
However, in a follow-up question, a DPS spokesperson couldn’t provide details on how the agency could guarantee that all 21,000 employees could take the test.
On a phone call with reporters Thursday, DPS Deputy Secretary Tracy Little said her office was not responsible for ordering the test, but had talked with staff at both FastMed and LabCorp about her ability to secure the test. It was She said there were no written documents demonstrating that either company had promised to secure adequate testing supplies.
“We believe that test supplies are good, and there is no reason to believe they are bad,” Little said.
The contract between the department and FastMed, which DPS created in response to a public record request, makes it clear that some employees who requested the test may not be able to take it.
Before taking the test, the employee must fill out a form to see if they are pregnant or have any of the symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19, such as fever, sore throat, muscle aches, loss of taste and smell. Must be answered.
“If you are currently experiencing symptoms of the disease, it may prevent you from being tested today,” the form says. “If you are ill, you may be referred for treatment due to a potential illness. The following questions will help you determine if the test is appropriate.”
The agreement between DPS and FastMed does not make it clear how employees with symptoms associated with COVID-19 can be screened for the virus.
In a phone call with reporters Thursday, Little could not explain why DPS signed a company to screen patients with COVID-19 symptoms from testing for viruses.
“If anyone has any symptoms, the provider wants to make sure they have the right assessment to medically know what’s happening to their employees,” Little said. It was “Our goal is to make our tests accessible to our employees. We facilitate that process and make it available.”
Following a question to Little, a FastMed spokeswoman needed to find a form of treatment in an emergency, so a form was created to make it clear that only employees with an emergency should not be tested in the clinic. I’m updating.
Watkins, chairman of the State Workers’ Association, said there are some hurdles in the DPS plan that can prevent staff from deciding to undergo testing.
“If it was a serious plan, we would encourage people to participate by facilitating it,” she said. “In this plan, in some cases, employees drive two hours one way and take a test with their gas at their own time.”
In a phone call with reporters Thursday, DPS officials said two sites were added near Pasquotank Correctional. One is in an Elizabeth City emergency care facility owned by another company. A second clinic was established in Hyde County.
Watkins’ sentiment was echoed this week by a retired North Carolina prison psychologist, John Schwade, in an email addressed to several legislators. In particular, Schwede asked why the test is only available for 14 days from May 18th to May 31st.
“ Most people can’t afford their free time and have a significant need for family life when they need to work at least 36.75 hours of compulsory overtime per 28-day payroll period, so sick family members , Vehicles and homes in need of repair — even if the trip is not unreasonably long, you may not have time to travel to FastMed’s location, ”he wrote.
Schwade also noted that employees may need testing after May 31st.
Watkins knows that SEANC members in prison are at risk each time they go to work, but they are not ready to spread the risks they face every day to their families. Stated.
“They’re used to being at risk every day, and they know it’s part of the gig,” Watkins said. “But bringing danger to homes and families is taking things to another level, and they are uncomfortable with their anger, fear, and worry. And that’s ridiculous.”
Dr. Lauren Brinkleel Binstein, an associate professor at the UNC School of Medicine, who tracks cases of COVID-19 in prisons across the country, expressed similar concerns.
“If there are staff, both in the environment and in jail who are interacting very closely with people in the environment, their risk is also the risk of getting a COVID and they go home, I sleep and live in the community, ”said Brinkley Rubinstein.
She said the importance of inspecting all prison staff was emphasized because of the increased risk of the virus spreading from prisons to the community.
“If you don’t know if you have a COVID and there are few ways to mitigate the risk, you’re putting your family and community at risk, Brinkley Rubinstein said.
“They took it from her”
Shisa Stewart is still quarantined at his home in Caswell County. He was released from the hospital, but he still tests positive for COVID-19.
He cannot return to normal life until the virus is gone. We begin by properly mourning the death of his wife, Barbara.
“Not true,” Stewart said, and asked if he could grieve Barbara’s death.
A list of cases published by Caswell County Health Department as of Wednesday indicates that the only resident who died of COVID-19 was exposed to the virus at work. However, Mr Stewart said he had not heard from state officials about treating his wife’s death as a duty fit death.
When a reporter asked if he had heard from prison officials about the possible benefits of death in the state, Stewart said he did not even know it was an option.
On Thursday, Prison Commissioner Ishee, N.C. He said the Department of Labor has begun investigating Stewart’s death. Labor ministry spokespersons confirmed much on Thursday saying the Occupational Safety and Health Department was investigating the case as work-related fatalities.
Ishee said no decision would be made on job classification death allowances until the investigation was completed.
In his interview, Stewart did not blame Daye, a prison watchman who said his wife enjoyed working with him.
“Miss Day is a nice guy and he would have done everything she could,” he said.
Instead, he asked the prison leader.
“My wife had been working there for 27 years,” Stewart wept. “And all she wanted was 30 years. She retired when she was 30 years old. And they took it away from her. They took it away from her. They didn’t like her. They knew she was going to catch it and not make it. ”
This story was co-reported and edited by Carolina Public Press’s Kate Martin, Jordan Wilkie, and Frank Taylor. Garlot Off, Ames Alexander and Doug Miller of Charlotte Observer. Dan Kane and Jordan Schrader from The News & Observer. WBTV Nick Ochsner. WECT’s Emily Featherston. WRAL’s Tyler Dukes. Jason de Bruyn from WUNC-FM.
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